Attack The Track! Race Report

When: Saturday, May 21, 2022

Where: Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois

Race Format: Marathon relay, 5 laps as the anchor

Results: 2000 Meters, approximately 1.2 miles, 8:19

photo credit Jim Hertz

I did something new and ran the last leg of a marathon relay with some local running club friends. It was a mild day with some humidity, but I don’t think that it affected me much. I knew going in that I was in no shape to be running fast, so I gave it the best all-out effort that I could give and was pretty happy with the result. Garmin said I averaged a pace of 7:01 for the five laps I ran.

Hanging out at the track with Big C – photo credit Calvin Jordan

I warmed up with about a 2.5-mile jog, and then took note of what mile we were on. I could see that there were a couple of teams that were a couple of miles ahead and a couple of miles behind based on the bib numbers. I paid attention to a couple of faster runners and noted that they seemed to go out too fast on their opening laps, and I took note of that.

When the baton was handed off to me I started at a pace that I felt wasn’t too hard and I think I was able to hold it pretty steady for the 5 laps that I ran. By lap two I was thinking about how heavy the baton weighed and I switched it to the other hand. By lap three I was pretty much tapped out but was able to grind out another couple of laps. I finished to the cheers of the remaining teammates and was glad it was over.

photo credit Calvin Jordan

I think there were about eight teams and I believe we finished around 6th. It was a fun day, and I’m glad I got to spend some time with the others.

WausaUltra Backyard Ultra Race Report

When: Friday, April 29, 2022

Where: Sylvan Hill Park, Wausau, Wisconsin

Race Format: Backyard Ultra, 4.167-mile loops/yards every hour

Results: Officially a DNF – 5 loops/yards, 20.8 miles – 30th out of 36 starters.

Website Link: https://www.wausaultra.com/backyard

2022 WausaUltra Backyard Race Report

I have to start by saying thanks to WausaUltra, the race directors, the staff, and the volunteers for hosting such a great event. Everything was well done. They made everyone feel welcome and became our biggest fans, even if we only made a handful of yards. They made me feel like I had a slim chance of winning. Ha!

On Facebook, the staff was welcoming everyone who had signed up with a short video and I was a little surprised at my welcome, as the guy thought that being 58 years old and doing this event was an amazing feat. Listen up, whippersnapper! I’m not old!

I drove to Wausau on Thursday afternoon and took a look around. I wanted to make sure I knew how to get there, and also know how long the drive would be from Minocqua.

Friday morning I got around and made it to the park in plenty of time to get set up. I opted for my one-man pop-up tent just because it would be easier to set up and tear down. The runners started trickling in and you could start to feel the excitement. This group seemed to be pretty serious about going deep into the event.

I set my little tent up right near the finish area to limit my walking.

We heard the 3-minute warning just before 10 am and everyone made their way to the corral for the start. The weather was cool, and there was no rain for now. It was shaping up to be a good day.

The start is somewhat anti-climatic as the first twenty yards after the pavilion area was very wet, and the road quickly became a hill. So there was no bolting out of the chute, we walked it.

Looking at the start/finish area.

I ran the first yard to get the lay of the land and then took my phone along for the second one to snap some photos. The first part of the course was crushed granite road and trail and was uphill. All uphill portions were walked.

Feeling pretty good early into the second yard.
After a short switchback, we were at the top of the sledding hill and had to choose our line. I preferred to be to the left, but that meant bending under a steel tow line a couple of times. It was less wet on the left side.
Upon getting to the bottom of the sledding hill, we made a turn through some very soft ground and had to climb this hill before climbing up an adjacent sledding hill. The guy with the red vest was the eventual winner. He wasted no use less energy on the course. Ran only when he needed to.
After getting up the hill again we wandered around and then had to descend this hill that fortunately had a very soft footing. It was like running on a hill of mulch.
After coming down the hill we had to cross some wet ground. Fortunately, the race staff had placed some stones here for us. Still trying to figure out if it was a good thing. I’m the last in line in this photo.
Photo credit: WausaUltra Facebook page
My favorite part of this course was this flat portion through the woods. Go figure.
My least favorite portion of the course was up there, a grassy portion near the local high school athletic fields. It was much cooler/breezier up there.
By far the most challenging part of the course were the sections of trail that were rocky. It took some serious concentration to get through these downhills. One misstep could really mess you up.
The race staff made a great effort to be all over the course to get photos and videos.
Some well-placed wooden bridges over some wetland areas. This is the section that would later end my day.
This gravel section led to another short hill just before the finish line.

So that is the course in pictures, which show what we dealt with better than I could explain it. It was a challenging course for sure.

The first few loops went pretty well, but I still struggled with sweating too much. It was tough to balance it because it was very cool in the higher parts of the course and warm on the climbs and lower parts. I eventually ended up shedding the pants I started with and swapped my trail shoes out for my regular running shoes for some additional toe space.

My big mistake however, was not taking in enough hydration and electrolytes. I don’t know why I have this dialed in so well for an Ironman but can be clueless when attempting these backyard events.

The fifth yard became my nemesis. I was giving some consideration as to how many more yards I could get through, and figured that I would attempt at least 2-3 more. But I started to get some hamstring and calf cramping here and there toward mile three and I wasn’t so sure anymore. When I came to the little wooden bridge section in the latter part of the 3rd mile of the fifth yard I wasn’t worried about it at all – it wasn’t technical, nor really anything that you had to concentrate all that hard about. But my tired legs must have kept my foot from clearing something and I tripped, falling flat onto the boards and bouncing into the moist dirt next to it. It happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to really catch or brace myself. I hit pretty hard and was almost in shock by it. I struggled to get myself up, as I now found myself cramping pretty badly. I knew I had to get to my feet and keep moving. That’s when I got very light-headed and quickly grabbed a tree to keep from falling again. After a brief moment I was able to collect myself and start walking again, taking an assessment of the damage I had done. I had a scraped knee and a cartoon-sized bump on my left forearm, but other than that I wasn’t in any significant pain.

As I made the last little uphill climb to the finish area, a guy standing there asked if I was okay. I told him that I fell and he went and told the staff. I made it to the finish and told the others there that I had banged myself up. Staffer Ellen was kind enough to get me an ice bag for my swollen arm and bandaged up my knee. I was advised that I still had about five minutes left to get ready for the next loop, but I told them there was no way. My two or three more yards estimate was immediately quashed as soon as I got up from that fall. I decided right there and then that I would not push my luck. Had I fallen on those rocks it could have really messed me up, and I wasn’t prepared to go back out there being behind on my hydration and energy.

Sitting in my tent, nursing my wounds.

I let the 3-2-1 minute countdown pass and stood and watched the others parade by. My day was done. I went over and rang the DNF bell of shame and then began the two hour packing up process to head home. Five yards, and a little more than 20 miles. It was less than I was expecting to do, but not too bad for this difficult course. The day sure made for a great and memorable experience.

I may be a DNF, but I added some trophies to the collection.

NOTES FOR NEXT TIME

  • This was a very technical course. I need to practice that type of terrain more.
  • Running downhill wasn’t too bad here, but it always wears my quads out quickly. Maybe add some leg press strength work or run more downhills in training.
  • Get that nutrition/hydration/electrolytes figured out.
  • Make sure my wife is there to help me! It was tough without a crew member.

I really enjoyed this event and I will definitely be back in the future. Thanks for reading!

What’s My Running Thing?

Sometimes I find myself wondering about people who are highly skilled at something and how they discovered that they were good at it. Maybe more importantly what if they weren’t exposed to the thing that they had become highly skilled at. Would they have been successful at something else? What if Michael Jordan had decided to focus on baseball after being cut from his high school basketball team? What if Yo-Yo Ma had been given a trumpet instead of a cello as a child? What if Eddie Van Halen hadn’t switched from piano and drums to guitar?

I was thinking about my running history the other day and was thinking about how I have found that I am really enjoying running trails and ultra-distance events. These are a new frontier for me and have certainly become a joy of late. Not that I’m any good at either, but it made me wonder what type of runner I really am. I regret that I didn’t have running in my life as a youth. I didn’t run track or cross country, but looking back on those types of running I wish I had experienced some of it. I have tried my hand at many types of running in my adult life and found that I love it all. But what am I best at? What distance or event do I perform best at? I’m not really sure.

Looking at my race results over the years I can see that I’m slightly faster than the average runners, usually placing in the top half of finishers or higher. In races, I almost always find myself alone chasing the faster runners ahead of me and yet gapping the rest of the field. I find that very interesting. It happens in almost every race, including the 25K trail race I did last month. From 5K’s to marathons, that is where I fall.

But of the races I have done, which distance is the one I perform best at? I don’t feel like I have blazing fast 5K speed, yet I can usually win an age group award at it and finish in the top 10% or so in the local races. That’s pretty good I think. My 5K PR is 19:29, which isn’t all that quick. My current average 5K time is over 22 minutes, thanks to getting older. I’ve been fast enough at marathons to qualify for the Boston Marathon three times now. And the nine half-marathons that I have done, all have been 1:40 or under, and I have always thought that to be pretty good. I like to keep the challenge of being under 1:40 going, but as I get older that is going to be difficult. I can’t imagine trying to average 7:30 per mile for 13.1 miles right now.

Maybe short-distance running is my thing. I ran a 5:44 min/mile a couple of years ago. That was an all-out effort and I spent a good chunk of summer and fall prepping myself for that. Or maybe it isn’t a speed thing, but rather a distance challenge that I may personally excel at. I’m currently discovering pushing myself to go farther than I have ever run before and I keep surprising myself each time. Maybe long and slow is the way!

I have heard the term “jack of all trades, master of none” before and maybe that’s the type of runner I am. Maybe I’m just good enough at a variety of distances, but just not ever going to be the top dog at any one of them. I guess there’s some fulfillment in that as a running journey.

What is your best event or distance? Did you know it right away or did it eventually come to you?

(un)Welcome Back!

After giving myself a brief few days to recover from running 41 miles at the Big Hill Bonk event last week, I felt like I was ready to start getting at it again. The weather was not cooperating, however, so I opted for a bike spin on Tuesday. That went okay and seeing that Wednesday was looking good to get outside, I planned a longer ride.

It felt great to toss my leg over the bike again. I hadn’t ridden a bike since Ironman Chattanooga last September, so I was looking forward to spinning the wheels for a while. It didn’t take long to see how out of cycling shape I was. Although I was just trying to take it easy, I was working pretty hard at it. Then my foot started having nerve pain that was very problematic last year. And then the calf cramps kicked in. I pulled the plug and cut the ride short. Not quite the welcome back to cycling that I was hoping for.

The first run after my ultra was a quick 3-miler on the dreadmill. Also not quite the welcome back to running that I had hoped for, but probably the best for me. The weekend came along with some decent enough weather to get outside. I ran eight miles on Saturday with no problems and then ran 11.5 miles on Sunday. Nice and slow and no eagerness to rush anything.

Sunday actually felt like a nice spring day. I can almost feel like winter is finally dying and I might even mow the grass this week. Warm weather would definitely be welcomed back.

Now that the first event of the season is out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about the remainder of running year. I’ll probably dial back the cycling. I’m a little worried about the nerve pain coming back, and once it is there it takes a while to go away. I handled it last year by making some alterations to my insert, adding some padding and loosening my shoe up a bit. I received some gravel-style cycling shoes over Christmas for my gravel bike, which might be more comfortable to use. I just haven’t switched out the pedals for them yet.

The only other races I have on the calendar are the Chicago Marathon in October, and Tunnel Hill 100 in November. Tunnel Hill is my “A” race and the focus. I want to check that 100-mile finish off of the list of running things I have yet to accomplish. Last year I was a little bit undertrained, both physically and mentally. I’ll be putting in some longer miles and spend more time on my feet for it this time. I’ll probably use Chicago for a training run, but I may also give using a run/walk method of running it a try and see if I can fine tune it to get me close to another Boston Marathon qualifier.

Kari and I booked an anniversary trip to Italy at the end of September, early October. It’s a hiking tour and there will be a lot of hiking/walking involved. It comes two weeks before Chicago, but I think it will provide a good taper for me.

I finally feel like I can start building a good base and enjoy a season of running. Welcome back!

Big Hill Bonk 2022 – Wisconsin’s Backyard Ultra Race Report

When: Friday, April 1, 2022

Where:  Big Hill Park – Beloit, Wisconsin

Distance: Ten 4.166 mile yards (loops) for a total of 41.6 miles

Results: For the second year in a row I am a DNF, as well as 29 others, with Jon Noll once again taking the win and making it look easy.

Results Link: Big Hill Bonk 2022 Results

BIG HILL BONK – WISCONSIN’S BACKYARD ULTRA – LAST RUNNER STANDING RACE REPORT

April Fool’s Day can be cruel and fun at the same time, and since the second running of the Big Hill Bonk happened to occur on April 1st, thirty-one runners including myself set out to do some foolhardy running through the woods of Beloit, Wisconsin. Foolish as it may seem to run an unknown and unlimited amount of 4.167-mile trips around the park, it was also a ton of fun. April Fool’s Day treated us to a cold morning start, and a campsite with an inch of snow on the ground to place our tents upon, but that didn’t seem to bother any of us. The day would stay sunny all day long and warm up to the mid-forties providing a mostly comfortable day of running.

Kari and I set up our tent and I made my way into the Welty Center to check in and get my bib and swag. I said hello to the race director Tyler, made my way over to the table, and was greeted by Tyler’s dad, who knew my name and said he loved reading my blog posts about training for last year’s race. I’m always surprised when someone tells me they have read my blog. It wouldn’t be the last time I was greeted with “you’re the guy with the blog!” A travel coffee mug with the Big Hill Bonk on it was the swag in place of a t-shirt this year, and I gladly filled it up with some warm coffee and made my way back to the tent to get off my feet and keep warm, thanks to a little propane-fueled camp heater I picked up just for this occasion.

I believe I was one of three who had run the 2021 inaugural edition of the Big Hill Bonk to return for some more “fun” in 2022. Of course, the other two returning runners were last year’s winner Jon, and another runner named Zac, who would be the one to make sure Jon didn’t have a walk in the park win this time around. There were a couple of other significant differences between the 2021 event and this one. First, 2021 was held in August and started at 5:30 pm. This year it was moved to April, the race director Tyler’s personal preference, and we started at 10 am. So nine out of the ten yards I did was done with daylight, and I barely needed the headlamp on the last yard. It was also much colder, which I think helped prevent me from overheating and getting somewhat dehydrated like I did last year, although I was still sweating and couldn’t find a comfortable amount of layers. It was much warmer at the bottom of the course than it was at the top, and I would overheat walking up the Big Hill. Then when we hit the road for the last mile, the cold breeze was in our face and made for a slightly uncomfortable finish to the yard. Since there was snow on the ground when we began the event, I jokingly told Tyler that I was circulating a petition to get it moved back to August. But as the race progressed I’m not sure what time of year I prefer to run this type of event. I think I have more experience managing myself in the heat than the cold. It’s easier, too. Just one layer – no hats, gloves, extra pants, or other things to keep me warm.

ONTO THE YARDS

As we heard the first three whistles, letting us know that the race would begin in three minutes, we all started to stir and made our way to the starting area. I met a young man named Blair who advised that he had read my blog to gain some insight about this event. I took an immediate liking to Blair and I would spend almost the entirety of my yards running with him. We had some great conversations about ultra-running. It also helped that we were running at roughly the same pace. I was enjoying not only Blair’s company, but there were plenty of others to enjoy conversations with this time around.

Snow covered the ground for the first few yards, then it was gone. This is the first yard.

Finishing the first yard. Not sure if the people recording the splits remembered to do it for this lap, but we came in around 48 minutes. We had already started to shed layers.

Last year everyone seemed to be more serious and less talkative. A couple of ladies named Stefanie and Kerri would strike up a bond and provide a lot of positive energy for the rest of us. I asked them on one of the yards if they had known each other beforehand. Nope, they met that day and were instant pals. I loved seeing the others finding the right group for themselves. It was an eclectic group for sure. There was a guy wearing a yellow and blue jacket, who had to lead every lap and finish each lap before everyone else. Not always the best tactic in this kind of event, but he seemed determined to own that. Another guy wore just a singlet and shorts, while the rest of us had on a few layers. There was a guy who ran in sandals, which is something I could never do. Another entrant was a kid who looked about 15-years old, but I learned was 18. He was a machine and made each yard look like it was nothing. I think that I was the oldest entrant, most of the others were well under 40. The only other guy in his 50’s was very consistent with his effort and was locked in. He outlasted me.

The first yard was done with snow covering the ground, but I somehow avoided getting wet shoes/feet. By the third yard, the snow would be gone for the most part, with the exception being a few areas in the woods shaded from the sun. The most technical part of the course is the descent from the top of the hillside down toward the path that would lead to the lowest part of the course. It was a little muddy and slippery, and I had seen some muddy legs from a few runners who may have slipped on this portion of the course. I took my time on it, as losing my footing would have meant a pretty good tumble down the hill. Some of the runners commented on how they weren’t expecting the obstacles that we had to get over and around, but I think they all found the course to be a lot of fun.

As we came to the finish line of the first yard, everyone pretty much started shedding the layers that they had overestimated needing. I was certainly in that group. I took the windbreaker off and went to a thinner pair of gloves. One guy had said that he was switching to just a t-shirt. But figuring out the right combination of layers and clothing was one of the harder things to figure out for the day. One runner had doubled up on running tights and was stripping down to just a single layer after the first yard. I’d start slightly cool, but at about a mile into the run we would head up a steep hill and I would get warm. The lowest portion of the course was the warmest, thanks to the namesake Big Hill shielding us from the wind coming from the west. Getting up the hill and onto the road for the last mile back into the finish area was the coolest, and I often wished I had another layer at that point.

I switched out tops three times, about every third yard, because I was pretty sweaty. I also switched from my trail shoes to my road shoes. The trail had firmed up quite nicely and I wasn’t worrying about slipping. The trail shoes were a half-size small and were starting to bruise my big toe.

In regard to hydration and nutrition, I think I handled it a little bit better this year. I had a decent breakfast at the hotel around 7 am, and I saw an opportunity to use the heater I bought to not only warm up the tent but to toast a Pop-Tart, which I promptly ate just before the start. I had purchased a Jimmy John’s roast beef sandwich on Thursday and was able to eat about three 2-inch sliced portions of it throughout the day. I snacked on potato chips, pretzels, a Payday bar, and yogurt in addition to eating some GU gel every lap. I also downed some Gatorade and a Lipton Brisk Raspberry Tea for the caffeine. Blair had said that he was sticking primarily with liquid nutrition, but that is never enough for me. The young kid was eating a banana often and I was kicking myself for not having a few on hand.

As for the rest of the yards, I will summarize: The day warmed up, the whistles blew, we lined up and went again, occasionally someone would drop, the guy in the yellow and blue jacket would lead us all in, and we would come back for a quick rest in the tent, eat some food, and then do it all again. A guy named Doug said he read my blog, as well as the kid – well, the kid admitted that his dad had read the blog and told him about it. When the kid saw that I was still going on Yard 9, he was genuinely happy for me to get past what I had accomplished last time. It eventually got dark and the winner from last year would get the win after 25 yards (104.2 miles).

A section of stairs that we had to go down that were slick with snow at the beginning yards. They were only about 8 inches wide as well, and we definitely paid attention to our foot strike here.
Kerri and I wrapping up Yard 9 just before teaming up for one last yard.

I ran the last yard with Kerri, a runner from South Dakota, who had also said that she was dropping after ten laps. We teamed up to get through that last yard and she made the mistake of telling me that she was interested in doing an Ironman, and then had to listen to my lecture on how to do an Ironman. I’m not sure if she’ll still want to do one after that.

Kerri waving, myself and Blair getting our watches ready for Yard 10. I think Blair ended at Yard 12, 50 miles.

After getting back to the tent and giving my wife Kari and much deserved hug, I had walked over to Blair’s tent nearby and thanked him for making my day and dragging my butt through 40+ miles. The day ended with me sitting in the tent with a blanket wrapped around me and huddled in front of the heater to keep me warm as Kari began the process of tearing down our stuff and hauling it to the car. I spotted a gentleman walking by my tent and he backtracked after seeing me and said “way to go – seriously, great job!” I think he was impressed someone near his age could keep up with these young guys and gals for as long as I did. Maybe next year I’ll shoot for 12 yards. There’s still a lot of miles left in these legs.

Added another “bonked” loser rock to my collection. There will be more.
Kari, the best race sherpa/coach wife/partner in crime, and I enjoying some post-race down time in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Couldn’t do these events without her help.

~~~

Thinking of doing a backyard ultra/last runner standing event like the Big Hill Bonk? Here are a few pointers.

  • Having a tent as a home base is very helpful. You may not need it, but if the weather turns it could come in handy.
  • Bring extra running gear – shoes, socks, shirts, hats, etc. I sweat in summer and winter, and I made several clothing changes.
  • Sunscreen and lip balm are your friends. I had sunscreen on my face, but forgot to put some on my bald head. My chapped lips are still trying to feel normal three days later.
  • There are some common drop points in the race where it’s common to see people decide they are done – hitting the yards and covering the marathon, 50K, 50 mile, 100K, and of course the 100 mile marks. Make those your goals, or know to avoid them if you are not trying to hit a specific mileage.
  • Train for it like it was an ultra.
  • Have a support system or crew if allowed. My wife Kari was so helpful in having my water bottles replenished, my food ready, my change of clothes laid out, and give the emotional encouragement that is so important.
  • Although there’s usually some great ultra-type food buffet options at the event, bring some food that you know works for you.
  • Make some friends on the first lap and enjoy the company!

Paleozoic Trail Runs – Carboniferous Spring II – 25K Race Report

Paleozoic Trail Runs – Carboniferous Spring II 25K Race Report

When:   March 19, 2022

Where:   Willow Springs, Illinois

Finish Time:   2:28:46

Finish Place:   12th overall, 2nd in Age Group M50-59

Results Link:  Paleozoic Trail Race 25K Results

 

Too Long/Don’t Read Version

I had a great time running a 25K trail race through a very muddy and challenging forest preserve course.  

 

All Of The Muddy Details 

Pre-race Course Reconnaissance:

Seeing that I have never run a trail race before, and because I have never run at this particular location before, I decided on Monday to drive the 30-minutes to Willow Springs and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to see what I was up against. I’m glad that I did because I received an in-depth view of the course. There were lots of missed turns, lots of rocky terrain, and lots of hills. Seeing that there was rain in the forecast for race day, I bought a pair of trail running shoes for the race. Rain or no rain, the trail shoes certainly improved my traction on this trail system.

Race Day

Mud can be fun, right?

It rained on Friday – a lot. I knew that this was not going to make for a good run, but what can you do? It was still raining on Saturday morning, and it was cold too. You can’t control the weather, so I always hope for the best conditions and plan for the worst. Of the bad weather races that I have done, this one ranks around fourth I would say, behind Leon’s Triathlon 2015 (3rd – downpouring rain), Ironman Chattanooga 2019 (2nd – extreme heat), and the Boston Marathon 2018 (1st – cold, downpouring rain, headwind the entire way). 

I met up with Jodi, the ultra-marathon crazy friend of mine who was running the 50K.  

The Bad Influence and me. The Stones logo was not placed there intentionally.

Jodi’s race started an hour earlier than mine, so I waited around and was soon joined by my friends Jim and Leah.

Jim, Leah, and me. Photo credit to Leah’s husband, Steve, which I gladly stole from Facebook.

We lined up, wished each other well, and off we raced!

The race started on grass and 100 yards into it my feet were feeling the wetness from the grass. That soon gave way to much softer grass, and mud and I was trying my best to jump over visible puddles, but it was quickly becoming not worth the extra effort.

The course map with the colored trails we ran.

I bolted out from the gate a little stronger than I probably should have and found myself trying to keep pace with some faster runners that I had no business trying to keep up with. By a mile into it, I was passed by another more sensibly paced runner and watched him slowly pace away from me. I was starting to question the choice of layers I was wearing as I was getting a little warm. I took my gloves off, unzipped my pullover, and pulled the hat up to expose my ears. I was struggling with my eyes watering and my glasses fogging up. Miles 2-3 was the portion of the trail that most likely had the best conditions. We ran the Yellow Trail for about 3.5 miles and then came to the Orange Trail. I encountered the leaders of the 50K returning back to the start on their first loop. They were impressive. I saw that someone had ditched their jacket near the unmanned water station and I gave it a brief consideration but opted to keep wearing it.  

The Orange Trail was one of the worst portions – a ditch that was basically full of mud. I made an energetic effort to run the ridge and make my way through it. Thankfully, it was short-lived and soon was on the very technical Blue Trail, with lots of hills, roots, and rocks. The Blue Trail gave way to the Green Trail, but I never noticed the markers. I was too occupied with watching for the orange course marking arrows painted on the ground to make sure I was going the correct way. Thankfully, I was seeing more and more of the 50K runners coming back at me, so I knew that I was on the right path. Around Mile 6 I was hearing another runner coming behind me and he must have been watching me dodge puddles and really muddy spots. He advised, “at a certain point you just have to commit to it.” As he passed I could see he didn’t give a damn about the puddles, just trudged right through them. I paced behind him for a while, but I still lacked the confidence to plow straight ahead through the worst spots. I wasn’t afraid of getting wet or muddy, I had committed to that a long time ago. I just didn’t want to slip and fall, possibly getting hurt.  

Typical of the most of the course, but there were worse sections. Photo credit to Jodi – another steal and used without permission.

From Mile 6 until the turn-around at 7.75 miles was some of the worst of the muddy trail. I trudged through and reached the turn-around and walked over the sensor pad. I refilled my handheld water bottle, grabbed a couple of pretzels, made a quick toilet stop, and then made the turn to follow the same trail back to the finish. I was happy that I hadn’t ditched the jacket, as the light wind was now in my face and it had started to rain a little harder.

I saw Leah coming at me and figured she was about a mile behind me. One thing to be said about the runners I was seeing heading to the turnaround, they were all seemingly having a good time. I will admit, I was having some fun too.

Thankfully, I had brought some gels with me or I might have run out of energy much earlier in the first half of the race. I was eating a gel every half-hour and it was keeping my energy up. I took my fourth and last one around the 12-mile mark and hoped that it would get me through the last 3.5 miles. Back on the Yellow Trail with it’s better conditions, I pushed my pace again and tried to keep it up. I could hear another runner behind me and as I reached a rather steep hill, I slowed to a walk and he went around me. A glance over my shoulder didn’t reveal anyone else, so I made an effort to try to reel him back in and was doing a decent job of it until I hit the grassy portion with another uphill climb that just took the wind out of my sails. I ambled around the picnic area, following the course, and saw Jodi just leaving out for her second loop. That was something I would not have wanted to do at that point! I was spent. As I crossed the finish line, a guy with a clipboard told me that I was the 2nd place finisher in my age group. I made my way to the car for some much-needed warmth.  

My feet were squishy wet. Amazingly enough, the shoes looked out-of-the-box new after a turn in the washing machine.

I sat shivering in the car trying to warm up, which was made more difficult by the wet clothes I was wearing. I pulled my top layers off of me, found a long-sleeved shirt to put on, topped it with a couple of windbreakers and my sweatshirt, and then hopped back into the car. I texted Kari and advised her that I was done, and she texted that she and daughter Ashley were on their way, which was a little surprising to me, but I had left some extra shoes at home and she was kind enough to meet me with them. They helped me stay warm while we waited for the awards.  

Glad to be done with this crazy run and a little warmer.

I ended up with 12th place overall and second place in my age group and was very happy with that. And it was a fun and memorable experience that I won’t soon forget. Turns out running in the mud can be fun.

I opted for a beanie instead of a t-shirt. Nice medal and A/G award.  I ran with the map to make sure I didn’t get lost.
Made a lunch trip to Pop’s for some soup and fries. The looks I got in there with my muddy legs were priceless.

Back to the Bonk

In April I’m heading back to Beloit, Wisconsin to give the second running of the Big Hill Bonk another go. I’m so not ready. I already feel like I’m bonking. Winter running is not my friend, and as an older runner, I try to use winter as a recovery period of sorts from what I did throughout the previous year. That makes running spring marathons tough for me. My mileage is low and my knee kind of hurts lately, but there’s still some time to get my act together and give this race another try.

I find this race format intriguing. It’s pretty simple – run 4.16 miles in an hour and keep running that 4.16-mile loop every hour for as long as you can. People will drop out until there is only one runner left and that runner is the winner. For everyone else, well, thanks for playing.

I’m not fooling myself, I know I won’t win, but I had avoided ultra-distance running for so long that I thought that I should at least experience it in order to validate my running legacy somehow. Last year I made it through 8 loops (also called yards), a total of 33-miles. The goal was to pass the 50K mark, which I did – marking my first ultra-marathon distance – and to have some fun, which I also did. I learned some valuable lessons along the way, and I’ve been thinking about them a little bit.

There’s a little bit of strategy involved in this type of race.  You have to budget your effort to not wear yourself out too early, yet you have to expend enough energy to finish the loop in an hour.  I came to the race last year not knowing much about how to run a trail ultra, but I got a crash course quickly.  I walked more than I was expecting.  Some of the hills the others were walking I would have typically never walked.  I was also carrying too much stuff and noticed most of the others just had a small water bottle.  I made a change to just carrying a handheld bottle myself by yard number three.

Me and some of the field shuffling up the namesake “Big Hill” in the early yards.

This year the race will be in April and not August, so I have to plan for running in cooler weather rather than the warm weather of last year.  There’s no crystal ball for the weather this far out from the race, so I just have to assume that it could be much cooler, and possibly rainy.  I wouldn’t have minded getting a little cooling rain last year, but the thunderstorms of the area thankfully skirted around us.  I’ll just have to hope for cool and dry temperatures for April.

It will be interesting to see how the course is in early spring compared to summer.  I’m hoping the trail will be dry.  Last summer the course had a section that was a little overgrown with the typical forest undergrowth in spots, but it wasn’t an issue.  I’m guessing that we won’t have to deal with that this time.

A fallen tree and some of the foilage we had to navigate through.

One of the other changes this time around is that the start time will be in the morning rather than early evening.  Last year we were able to get in about three yards of the course before it got dark.  So we will have some daylight loops to start with this time.

So far the field is about the same size as last time, about thirty runners.  This is a good number for the course.  More than that could make for some clogged spots in the single-track areas of the course.  I won’t need to worry about it too much.  It’s not a speed contest, but you do have to finish the yard before the hour is up.  I think most of us will average about 50-minutes to do a yard.  Having ten minutes to replenish water and food, and maybe sit for a moment is plenty of time.  I think I will try to take on a little bit more food this time as well.

I looked at the registered athletes for the 2022 event and was surprised to see that at this time there are only three runners returning from 2021 – myself, Zac Lungren, who ran 13 yards/54 miles, and Jon Noll – the eventual winner, who ran a mind-boggling 34 yards, and a total of 141 miles! Last year there was a very solid group of six runners that all surpassed 100 miles and kept pushing Jon to earn his title. The rest of the 2022 field are all newcomers as of this post. I’m guessing some of the runners from last year saw that Jon signed up and said, “Well, what’s the point?” and decided to find another race to do. Maybe some of them found the course in Beloit to be a pretty good challenge, I certainly did. And since the race got moved back to April instead of August, maybe some are also like me and feeling a little under-prepared.

Of the newcomers, there are some serious contenders there. Jon will have his work cut out for him for sure.  Many of them will be like me, curious to experience this kind of event, maybe challenge themselves to experience trail running, or hit a distance milestone for the first time.  Maybe some think that they can win.  Only Jon stands in their way.  You just have to run one more yard than everyone else.  Good luck!

Running Stories: My Obsession With Numbers

When I run I have a habit that I think a lot of other runners may share – I have to make sure that it ends on a mile exactly, or the quarter, half, or three-quarter of a mile. A 5K, or 3.1 miles has always made me uneasy. 26.2? Couldn’t they have made it 26.25, or just plain old 26?

When I started training for Ironman the plan I followed had built the cycling and running workouts around time, not distance. That was very tough for me to get used to because I always went for an even-mile run, not a 45-minute or an hour-long run. Fortunately for me, my easier Zone 2 pace is at about a 9 minute/mile, so I would get 5 miles done in 45-minutes. But a 30-minute run would push me over 3 miles. I would usually quit three minutes early, or push a little more to get that extra quarter mile. I never wanted it to be a 2.68-mile run. And if do a run in some unfamiliar place and I get back to where I started on some weird number, you can bet that I would do a little more to get the number I want.

I don’t think I would call myself obsessive about it, it’s just that I used to handwrite my mileage into my running log, and to have those nice numbers made it easier for me to add up at the end of the year. I just got used to it and stuck with running distances ending in x.0, x.25., x.5, or x.75.

The 2010 Chicago Marathon had something going for it in addition to being a world-class marathon. People were excited to be in the field and run through the city. But I think that they were more excited about it being run on October 10. Yes, 10-10-10. I found myself also thinking that it was kind of cool, even though the year was 2010, not 0010. I’m a nitpicker. 10-10-10 was plastered all over the event that year. People were enamored by it, so much so that I remember one person suggesting the marathon for 2011 to be moved from October to September so that the date would read 9-10-11. That didn’t happen. Anyway, I have to admit that running the 10-10-10 Chicago made it a little more memorable for me than any of the other years that I did it.

But this year I am trying to change my old ways. I no longer personally log my mileage into a running log, I let my much smarter Garmin watch and app do all that logging and adding work for me. I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but this year I decided not to obsess over a run ending in zero-point-nine. So far, I have had a 7.16-mile run and one 4.24 miler. Baby steps.

Do you have a weird running thing? Maybe you’re a streaker, running every day? Or maybe your normal looped run route is always done counter-clockwise? I’d love to know.

2021 Running and Triathlon Year in Review

2021 Running and Triathlon Year in Review

Started 2021 with some trail running. Found out I loved running trails.

What a difference a year makes! After just going through the motions last year, running and biking without any racing, it was such a joy to have racing back again in 2021. As I write this, December 2021 is starting to feel more like 2020, and I definitely do not want to go back there, but I think the ship will right itself again.

2021 saw a return to racing for me. I tried to not go overboard with racing, and there were some changes to how things were done, but we were allowed to push ourselves once again.

On the triathlon front, I got in two events – the first being an “off-road” sprint triathlon that was a lot of fun, and resulted in an age-group placing. And I completed my fifth Ironman in Chattanooga with my friends.

The Gunner Gang the morning of Ironman Chattanooga 2021.

It was also a year of new adventures in running for me as I trained for and ran a couple ultra marathons. I found training for the ultras to reinvigorate my passion for running. I also found that going slower can also be fun. I learned quite a bit about myself on those training runs and during the events as well. I’ve already signed up to do the Big Hill Bonk event, as well as another attempt at the Tunnel Hill 100.  I’m an Ultra Runner now!!!

In the spring I began my training for Ironman Chattanooga, which I made my goal “A” race, and would train for the other stuff around that training. Although it prepared me well for the Ironman, I think the training wasn’t quite adequate for the 100-miler, and that became clear to me when I decided to drop at the halfway mark and take the 50-mile finish. I felt no regret about stopping at 50 miles at the time I did it, but it wasn’t long before I was regretting it a little. I will prepare myself with a little more ultra-specific run training and arm myself with what I learned from the race to give it another try in the fall.

Summer saw me entering my first race of the year and first time back at racing since Covid shut down everything in 2020. I was urged by a few of my coworkers to run a local 5K and that was a fun return to road racing. The course was hilly and tough, and the warm day didn’t lend to a great 5K time, but I did okay-ish. Here’s the race report:  2021 Chasing the Sun 5K Race Report

Had some fun swim training with Tom in Lake Michigan.  He’s caught the tri bug.  

Next was a new, local triathlon that was “off-road,” which basically meant it was on a crushed limestone trail for the bike and run. I was excited about that because I got to actually race my gravel bike for the first time. You can read about it here:  The Forge Off-road Triathlon Race Report

Coming out of the water at the Forge Tri.

In August the Big Hill Bonk – Wisconsin’s Backyard Ultra race finally took place after a couple of postponements and it was a ton of fun. This race format of running multiple 4.16 mile loops every hour is still kind of new, so I found myself learning as I ran. And what I learned is that I had a lot of fun running through the woods and into the dark of night. It was a great experience and I look forward to doing it again in April 2022. Eight laps, or “yards” netted me 33 total miles.  The adventure can be found on this post:  Big Hill Bonk – Wisconsin Backyard Ultra Race Report

Fake running for the photographer, but having a blast at Big Hill Bonk.

Next up was a return to Chattanooga for my fifth Ironman with my Gunner teammates Dave, Jeff, and Jan. Weatherwise, race day was much better than what we experienced in 2019, a dreadfully hot and humid day. This race was wetsuit legal, a first for Chattanooga, I believe. Even with an extra four miles on the bike course, and the run course being one of the hilliest ever, I turned in my second fastest IM time. Here’s the report:  2021 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

Doing my part to promote pathetic triathlonism.  

I had about a month and a half to work on building some mileage for my first attempt at running 100 miles. I worked on pacing and in-race nutrition while logging lots of weekly miles in training. Race day came and I felt prepared, but my body was aching a little and my mind wasn’t quite prepared to tell my body to keep going. Thankfully, at Tunnel Hill you can get the 50-mile finisher award if you decide to drop at the half-way point, and that’s what I did. I’ve never run that far in one day ever, and I’m pretty proud of that. Read about Tunnel Hill here:  Tunnel Hill 50 Mile Run Race Report

Finishing 50 miles of running and calling it a day.  I had a Forrest Gump moment and didn’t feel like running anymore.

One little note about the Boston Marathon. I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2019 and got my third Boston qualifier, albiet barely. I was thirteen seconds under the qualifying time and even though I was proud of that, I knew that a BQ-13 would not be quick enough, and I didn’t give any thought to applying to run it again. I was wrong. Boston announced that there would be NO CUTOFF FOR 2022! I could have made it in! Oh well, I’m not sure I wanted to run it on such short notice anyway. Running Boston in 2018 was such a miserable experience (!) and great memory for me, I might not ever want to run it again!

So that wraps up 2021. What’s in store for 2022? Well, it seems that I’ve gotten myself entangled in a hodge-podge of events that I will have to figure out how to train for. Plus, I have to keep the calendar clear for a couple reasons: Kari and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in September and we are hoping to go on a trip. And my son Ben and fiance Emily are planning a summer wedding, which doesn’t quite have a concrete date yet. I’m looking forward to both of those non-running, non-triathloning events!

But I have already committed to running the Big Hill Bonk in April, which I have sorta started training for now. I’ve also added the Manteno sprint tri for the end of July. I’m toying with adding the Chicago Triathlon for the end of August. And since the Chicago Marathon notified me that I have legacy and can sign up for the race, I did so. It may end up being another attempt at a Boston qualifier, or it may end up being a training run for Tunnel Hill 100, which I committed to just 2 hours ago. Yeah, I have some unfinished business there.  And I’m a glutton for punishment.

So here’s to 2022 and a happy and healthy racing year.

RUNNING STATS

  • JANUARY – 21 Runs / 140 Miles / 35 Miles per week
  • FEBRUARY – 15 Runs / 79 Miles / 20 Miles per week
  • MARCH – 19 Runs / 85 Miles / 21 Miles per week
  • APRIL – 15 Runs / 78 Miles / 19 Miles per week
  • MAY – 17 Runs / 91 Miles / 23 Miles per week
  • JUNE – 18 Runs / 98 Miles / 24.5 Miles per week
  • JULY – 18 Runs / 120 Miles / 30 Miles per week
  • AUGUST – 20 Runs / 180 Miles / 45 Miles per week
  • SEPTEMBER – 18 Runs / 124 Miles / 31 Miles per week
  • OCTOBER – 21 Runs / 242 Miles / 60.5 Miles per week
  • NOVEMBER – 14 Runs / 158 Miles / 39 Miles per week
  • DECEMBER – 13 Runs / 95 Miles / 24 Miles per week
  • 2021 TOTALS – 209 Runs / 1490 Miles / 28.6 Miles per week

LIFETIME RUNNING TOTAL

  • 29049 Total Lifetime Miles / 5190 Total Lifetime Runs / 33rd Year of Running

BIKING STATS

  • 109 Total Rides / 2843 Total Miles

SWIMMING STATS

  • 33 Total Swims / 51971 Total Yards (29.5 miles)

I’m NOT a Health Nut!

I went to see my doctor on Monday for a check-up and inquired about the shingles vaccine, and he reiterated once again that I was his healthiest patient and not to worry about it for a couple more years.  The doctor and I are very close in age, our birthdays separated by only a couple of days, and he has told me that he uses me as sort of a barometer for his own wellbeing.  But I always chuckle a little when he tells me that I’m his fittest or healthiest patient.  If I’m the fittest the others must be really bad off.  Isn’t he looking at the same body that I see in the mirror?  Maybe those tests that he runs on my blood don’t tell him that I scarf down a Nutty Buddy every day.  Sometimes more than one.

The next day, I met a woman whom I was gifting some old running clothes to and I mentioned that we had a common friend.  She said that her friend told her that I was a “health nut.”  Huh?

Okay, what the heck?!  I’M NOT A HEALTH NUT!  I’m a running nut, and there’s a big difference!  But really though, do these two things go hand in hand?  I don’t think that they do.  I’m sure that there are those who are steadfast in their nutritional intake and also exercise, but I would bet good money that they are very much in the minority.  The pros are probably more apt to look for any advantage they can get, and I assume they look for performance advantages with their diet.  But for us age groupers, we are generally the type that uses running as an excuse to eat whatever we frickin’ want.  

I’ve ranted about this before (I’M SHOCKED!) and I find it somewhat interesting that people who don’t run think that being a runner also means that I also eat kelp and quinoa.  Trust me, I don’t.  I had to look up how to spell quinoa.  

What is a health nut anyway?  Am I just defining it incorrectly?  I Googled it and the first definition I came across was “someone who is very serious about their health;   someone who exercises a lot and always eats healthy food.”  Well, I’m definitely half of a health nut.   And what’s with the nut part?  Are they indicating that they think I’m nutters because I like to run?  Is running a nutty thing to do?  Nuts taste good and I think some nuts are healthy, too.  I eat some nuts occasionally – maybe I am a health nut!

I guess if there is one thing that I could be doing better is not sabotaging my fitness with bad food choices.  I’ve tried in the past and failed.  I just like to eat foods that give me pleasure, not some spinach-laden salad thing.  Who doesn’t?  In all honesty though, I don’t overdo the junk food stuff.  I haven’t ate at McD’s in years.

I mentioned above that I assumed that the pros are health nuts when it comes to diet and exercise, and now I can kind of understand why others assume that I am some sort of health nut too.   

Maybe I should become a full-on health nut, then I won’t take it as an insult.  Yeah, that’s right, I’M A HEALTH NUT AS WELL AS A RUNNING NUT!  Eh, maybe not.  I’ll stick with just being a running nut.  Being a health nut is hard!  And there’s no medal for it.