I started running in the late 1980s and like most, I was just dabbling with it. I was a recent college grad in a new job, living away from family and friends and pretty much bored. I was also gaining weight and couldn’t afford to buy new pants, so running became my interest. It was never easy at first. A few trips around the apartment complex were all I could do initially. But I stuck with it somehow.
One day I decided to attempt to go further than I had gone previously, and before I knew it I was at five miles before stopping. But when I got to that mark I had a feeling that I could keep going. It was at that moment that running seemed to click with me. I could and would keep going. Within a year or two of starting those laps around the apartment complex, I set a goal of running a marathon.
I started doing local races and marathons. I was just winging it. How complex could running be? You just run, right? There was no internet during this time for me. It may have existed, but it was in its infancy, and I didn’t have a computer to even do any sort of research into how to train for a marathon. The first couple of marathons went okay. I ran 3:50 in the first one and followed it up with another 3:50 a year later. I really thought that I would demolish that 3:50, but a lack of knowledge about fueling and hydration was my downfall.
It would be a couple of decades later that I would become a triathlete with the goal of completing an Ironman, and that is where my mindset changed. I followed a plan for the first time and learned a ton about how to fuel for the race. Successfully training for and completing that first Ironman was a big deal. It taught me loads about how to train and I applied that to my running goals as well. Although I feel that it took me three Ironman races before I finally dialed it in and set a personal best, it did finally click with me and I found personal success.
Not long after that, I applied what I had learned from the triathlon training to running and I found myself setting new personal bests in the marathon, and getting that once elusive Boston Marathon qualifier was now in reach. I set new personal bests in the marathon distance, all in my 50s. I have now achieved three BQs and run the race in 2018, CLICK!
For the past few years, I have set my sights on becoming an ultra-distance runner. Something that I hadn’t done in the previous thirty years of running, and I had to learn to apply what I knew from my triathlon and marathon running experiences to running stupid far. I basically had to learn to run slower and pace myself. It clicked for me when I started applying walk breaks into my runs. I had more energy to run farther. Even with four ultra-distance finishes completed, I still am adapting and learning about how I manage the run. Last weekend I ran my fourth last-runner standing format ultra and went farther than I have ever run – 54 miles. I was shooting for 50, but knowing one more 4.16-mile loop would benefit me mentally, I pushed on and it helped me understand that I could get past that 50-mile mark and keep going. CLICK!
Yesterday, I ended my recovery week with a run that I was planning to last about ten miles. But as I meandered my way around the community, I started thinking about doing more. I felt really good. I ended up playing it safe, finishing with twelve total miles. When you find yourself thinking that ten miles are just okay and want to do more, then I think that the work that I have been doing to get me to the finish line of Tunnel Hill 100 in November might just be clicking with me.
CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!
When did running click with you? What was your a-ha! moment?
I had to juggle my 100-mile training plan for the Tunnel Hill 100 due to a planned 30th anniversary trip to Italy, and it was looking like I would have to sacrifice either the 50-kilometer run or the 50-mile run. I decided that the 50-miler was probably more important to the training than the 50K, so I started looking around and found the Broken Anvil Backyard Ultra that would work perfectly for me. Running an organized 50-mile race would be a lot easier than having to do it solo and provide my own support for twelve hours. So I signed up, told the wife (hint – always tell the wife after you sign up), got a hotel for the weekend, and then started thinking about how to run the course.
After doing some research into the event, it looked like a perfect opportunity to get in 50 miles without having to walk up really long hills, shimmy down rocky terrain, or duck under or climb over fallen trees (I’m looking at you Big Hill Bonk and WausaUltra!). Seeing that there wouldn’t be any hills to force me to walk, I decided that a run/walk plan of 2 minutes of running followed by 2 minutes of walking would probably do it. Just to make sure, I did a 4.2-mile run at home on Wednesday following that pace plan and finished right around 50 minutes. Perfect.
Friday night my wife Kari and I jumped in the truck and headed west on I-80 for a little under four hour trip to our hotel in Fort Madison. After arriving, we decided to drive the route to the event location to make sure there were no surprises Saturday morning. Upon getting there we found the super-cool race director Nic still there and a few of the other participants milling around. He allowed us to set up our tent so we didn’t have to worry about it on race day, and I grabbed my bib and the event sweatshirt.
At 7am on Saturday, 30 of the 36 registrants (there were six no-shows) got into the corral and were sent off on our way. The first loop, or yard as they are also called, went really well. I quickly came to realize though, that I was the only one doing a dedicated run/walk thing, as the others just jogged until they came upon one of the few small hills or when they needed a break before doing any walking. Most of the runners were finishing about five minutes or so ahead of me, and I was consistently finishing the 4.16-miles in 50 minutes. I was really dialed in and super consistent with my pace plan. Ten minutes after each loop is plenty of time to sit, rehydrate, refuel, make clothes changes, etc. My super-sherpa race crew wife Kari was also dialed in. All of my next lap drinks, food, electrolytes, and a cold washcloth/towel were ready for me without ever having to ask. I would make some requests for certain things here and there, but she was anticipating my every need.
Some pictures of the course, a mixture of grass, crushed gravel, pavement, and a short pine needle-covered dirt trail.
The loops went by quickly as usual. A couple of women dropped after one lap, but I think they were just there to experience some fun and support other racers. One guy was using the race to get his tempo miles in for an upcoming marathon and would quickly blast through the loop. But for the most part, we would all start each loop together and I would bring up the end. Seven runners dropped before the marathon distance of loop 7, which is a little surprising. However, it was loop 7 when the Iowa skies decided to open up and pour on us.
I wasn’t really worried about running in the rain. I had an extra pair of shoes, plenty of extra running clothes, and also a rain jacket that I decided might be beneficial to help keep me warm in case the rain made me chilly. The jacket actually just made me sweat more, and I didn’t wear it for more than a loop or two. However, the rain caused a problem that I hadn’t quite planned for – chafing. I had lubed up my inner thighs in the morning as is typical for me before a long run, but the rain and the running must have caused it to wear off. When I noticed the chafing I started applying Vaseline like crazy, but I think it was too little too late. I have never had chafing as bad as that. I kept applying Vaseline every loop, hoping that I could continue on.
Races always provide some sort of distraction, and I was trying to remember all that I could. There was a guy who was talking to his group ahead of me and said “Prince Charles is a DICK!” Not sure what that conversation was about, but it gave me a chuckle. Another runner was in the starting corral when he realized he didn’t have his watch, and after the loop starts you are not allowed to leave the course except for bathrooms, nor are you to receive any outside assistance. Another guy spoke up and said “Spoiler alert! It’ll take you an hour.” That got a good laugh out of the group as the bell rang and we were off. I think he got his watch just in time.
The course took us through Pollmiller Park, which included a small lake and a campsite. I joked with one camper and asked how he was enjoying “the dumbest parade ever.” He chuckled and said “See you in an hour.” He must have gotten used to our routine. Another group of campers included some kids and one teenager asked me “What are you running from?” I wasn’t sure what she meant and I replied that I wasn’t running from anything. I asked the guy next to me how was I supposed to answer that? He said that it was just a “smart ass kid being a smart ass.” But it gave me something to mull over for the rest of the loop and the next. She asked again on the next loop, and I said “I’m not running from anything, I’m running to something.” A higher purpose, maybe? I don’t know, I’m still searching.
I really didn’t have a problem with the course other than there was a steady stream of cars in and out of the park. They were generally cognizant of us and gave us plenty of room, except for one car that came right in front of me and cut me off from the course and stopped. I wasn’t sure really what she was doing, and I don’t think she knew that she was blocking the race route, but it wasn’t a place to park, and she was miffed that I raised my hands as if to say “what the hell are you doing?” She backed up and I carried on to the finish.
When I hit loop 8/50K I knew I had 50 miles in the bag. Aside from the chafing, I felt really fresh. My legs weren’t tired, I had plenty of energy, and I was really enjoying each loop. When I was on the twelfth loop I was telling myself that I would do one more, possibly two after that. I finished the 13th loop and decided that the goal of 50 miles was reached, plus one extra for a total of 54 was enough for the day. It was the furthest I had ever run. I lined up in the corral for loop fourteen, and when the loop was started, I walked over and rang the bell. I was taping out. Everyone was extremely happy for me and they were applauding my effort. I told the race director “Let the record show that I started loop 14 but did not finish it.” It doesn’t really matter, but it sounds better than stopping at 13 loops.
It took a while for the results to get loaded up and when they were I was shocked to see what had happened. The results showed that there were two runners that finished with 66.7 miles, the top male and the top female. But in a backyard ultra, there can only be one finisher! What this means is that there was NO finisher! Everyone DNF’d this race! Kari and I were discussing this and we weren’t sure if they just didn’t know the rules, or if the weather turned worse and they decided to quit, or if they were both happy with being the top finisher in their gender. The other part of it for me was that I am sure that I could have run past 66.7 miles! That’s only three more loops!
In the end, I finished in 4th place, as there were two that did 66 miles, six that tied at 62 miles, and another runner did one more lap than me. But really I was the 10th out of 30 starters, which really pleased me.
The results of the race weren’t the only thing that surprised me. What really surprised me was how dialed in I was and how good I felt, minus the chafing of course. I could barely walk when we returned to the hotel, and the shower was extremely painful when it hit my sore groin. But overall, I had no tiredness or soreness in my legs or feet. I could have kept going. The hydration was spot on, as was the nutrition. It’s making me rethink my 4-minute run / 2-minute walk pace plan for the 100 miler in November. I might have to shorten that run time down to two minutes because it worked so well here at Broken Anvil.
Overall, I loved this event. It was super fun, and if I plan to do more backyarders in the future, this one will definitely remain on the list.
I was wrapping up Week 17 of my training for the 2022 Tunnel Hill 100 and was feeling pretty good until Saturday when things took an unexpected turn. In the midst of running my Saturday 18-mile long run, it came to an abrupt halt at a little after mile five. I was in need of a bathroom break and I knew that there would be a port-o-potty at the next street crossing, just up the road to the left. I slowed to a walk and was looking for it but it wasn’t there. Was I just missing it? Did they move it? Then BAM! I walked straight into one of those metal posts in the middle of the trail that are there to keep cars from driving down the trail. All at once, I was dealing with a low blow and the feeling of falling down without having any clue what the heck was going on! I quickly put my palm down on the trail to keep myself from falling, but I was still stunned as to what was happening. Then it hit me – after many years of successfully avoiding those dumb posts on the trail, I finally collided with one.
As I dealt with the pain of walking into the dumb thing, I was no longer really worried about the bathroom break. Obviously, my next reaction to this dumb move was to look around and see if anyone saw me because embarrassment would definitely make it much worse. The trail had been pretty busy and I had been running with other runners, walkers, and cyclists, but fortunately, I was pretty much by myself. There were a couple dog walkers coming but I’m not sure they saw me. Regardless, I decided to keep moving. What did all of my baseball coaches say when I was a kid? Rub some dirt on it and walk it off. I always thought that was dumb advice, but walking it off is what I chose to do. I wasn’t about to rub dirt on my now bruised groin.
As I trudged onward, next came the expletives, as that always seemed to be my response to dumb acts, and after a few minutes of that, I started to feel a little better. Not smarter, just a little less in pain. I guess the pain wouldn’t make me quit the run, and I continued on for the rest of the run.
Upon getting home I was able to see how messed up I had made myself. Pulling up my shorts revealed a huge bump on my inner left thigh. It was definitely sore and I marveled that I was actually able to keep running with that bump the rest of the way. I also had a bump and a cut on my lower left shin. I inspected my running shoe and I could see rust and paint transfer on it from striking the painted post. That had to be a serious collision to do that!
I’ll spare you a photo of the bump on my groin.
In the movie Rainman Charlie Babbit pulls Ray’s neck and Ray responds by whipping out his “serious injury list.”
Charlie: What are you writing?… What the f*** is this? “Serious Injury List”? *Serious* injury list? Are you f***ing kidding me?
Raymond: Number eighteen in 1988, Charlie Babbitt squeezed and pulled and hurt my neck in 1988.
Charlie: Squeezed and pulled and hurt your neck in 1988?
I’m thinking of starting my own serious injury list. I have three entries already this year!
WausaUltra Backyard Ultra – fell on loop 5, skinned up my arm, leg and knee, causing me to quit the race
Hickory Creek Preserve/LaPorte Road Access – went off the beaten path and tripped on a tree root, scrapped up my arm and knee
Old Plank Trail – walked into a stupid post, causing bumps and scrapes to my groin.
I chose to skip the 1.5-hour run that the plan called for on Sunday and opted to do a hike with Kari instead. I’m happy to report there were no injuries on the hike. But I’m sure that I will be adding to the list sooner or later.
I have been quietly putting in the running miles for Tunnel Hill 100 in November. As I run, I have a lot of time to think about the enormity of running 100 miles – the training, the race, the external needs, etc. I attempted the 100-mile run in 2021, but ultimately dropped at the 50-mile finish and was allowed to accept the 50-mile finisher award. I was warned as a 100-mile registrant to resist the urge to quit at 50 by many different people but quit I did. I’m not ashamed of it at all, as completing 50 miles is a pretty impressive accomplishment. But as all of the people warning me indicated, I would regret it sooner or later. For me, it was sooner. By the time I had gotten to the hotel, cleaned up, and had some food, I was already regretting it. I felt that I let myself down, my son and my daughter-in-law who had come to pace me, and my wife who was there for support and provide all the dumb things I needed to go 100 miles. They were there and ready to do their jobs, I just didn’t do mine.
Continuing past the 50-mile mark while attempting to hit 100 should have been a no-brainer. I often say that the hardest part of any run is taking the first step, as once you get started you often will finish the job. But I just didn’t take that first step past the halfway point. I spent miles 30 to 49 debating with myself as to whether to drop at 50 0r keep going. I vacillated back and forth many times, but at the time I was worn out, tired and sore and felt that going on would have been rough on me. I guess I was afraid of what was to come and getting the 50-mile finish was a pretty good consolation prize. Until it wasn’t.
I have spent many a training mile thinking about the mistake or mistakes I made last time, but I am reluctant to call them mistakes. I think that making improvements on what happened would be more productive, so I am focusing on the positive and trying to make improvements. Here are some of the things I have been thinking about improving upon.
DO THE APPROPRIATE TRAINING – My first attempt at Tunnel Hill in 2021 became a secondary event to Ironman Chattanooga when Covid-19 messed up my plans and put the two races in the same calendar year. Nothing I could do about it, but at the time I chose to make Chatty my priority, and focus my training on the Ironman and hope that it would be enough to get me through the ultramarathon. I’m not totally convinced that the Ironman training I was doing wasn’t enough to get me through 100 miles, but it’s really hard to substitute swimming/biking/running for just long-running. This time I decided to focus my training on just doing the ultra. I haven’t even raced a sprint triathlon or 5K this year, I’m just doing long, slow distance running.
TRAIN THE BRAIN – Ironman can be emboldening, making you believe that “anything is possible” (a motto of theirs), so I thought that if I can finish an Ironman (or now five of them) I can easily get through an ultra. Boy, I underestimated the ultra distance and what it took mentally to get through it. Pushing on was something I wasn’t able to do. How do you get over that mental hurdle? I’m still trying to figure it out, but for now, I keep pushing myself out the door when I need to do so. In marathon training, you typically build to one 20-mile training run before the race. I’ve done several 18-milers and a couple of 20-mile runs so far, with many more to do. I need to get those distances in not only for my legs but for my mind as well. I’m guessing with the miles I run and the time I put into them, my mind will get used to being along for the ride.
Right now it’s summer and it’s been a hot and humid one too. I have to resist the temptation to judge where I will be in November based on where I’m at now. My brain sometimes tells me that I’m going to struggle with this, but it’s all because I’m currently struggling with heat and humidity. Got to get through the plan and get close to race day, then I will know where I stand.
USE THE GADGETS – I acquired what I thought I might need to run long distances – shoes with more cushion, shoe gaiters, trekking poles, headlamps, portable watch and phone chargers, and other odds and ends, but I haven’t really used them much. Last year I did use the lights from about mile 35 to 50, but I wasn’t used to running with them. I did very little training running with lights, and they can be kind of weird. Some runners say that the bouncing movement of the light from a headlamp can make them feel a little unbalanced. I didn’t really have a problem with that, but I can see it having a strobe light-type effect. I did practice with the watch charger in training last year, but having a new watch with better battery life might make them unnecessary. I think the watch will last the full 100 miles. But I should probably refresh myself on how to use them while running.
DO SOME NIGHTTIME RUNNING – My wife Kari “coaches” me often with thoughtful suggestions, and one of them that I could benefit from is doing some nighttime running. Tunnel Hill starts at 7am in November and you had daylight until about 4:30pm, so not even 10 hours of sunlight. The majority of the race will be run in the dark. Last year it was so dark in southern Illinois that without the light I couldn’t see anything. There were people coming back to finish 50 miles without lights and I had no idea how they were staying on the path! Some practice running at night with lights would be a good idea. But I think she is also suggesting that I run at night when it’s the time of day that I’m getting tired. I don’t really remember feeling “sleepy” tired last year, thanks to caffeine, more of a fatigued muscles-type tired. But it is a good suggestion. I will suggest that she join me.
RE-EVALUATE YOUR EXPECTATIONS – Last year I had no idea what to expect and just going off of what my training leading up to the race was telling me, I foolishly thought that a sub-24-hour finish was probable. Heck, I was averaging 5.5 miles every hour in training and thinking a sub-20-hour finish might happen! Man, did that race teach me a lesson. I did happen to finish the 50 in 11 hours and 32 minutes, but there was no way I was going to be able to do another 12-hour 50 miles. The experience from last year has made me adjust my expectations a little. I’m still going to shoot for around 24 hours, but the overall goal, and one I can’t overlook, IS TO FINISH THE DAMN DISTANCE!
WHAT THE PACE? – One of the crucial elements of running 100 miles is going at a pace that won’t kill you too soon, and I think I blew this part of it last year. That’s a surprising statement seeing that my local friends all went out much faster than me for the first 25 miles of it. It was quite a shock to be bringing up the rear when I was holding a sub-20 pace myself! With the exception of Leah, who turned in and impressive 22:54, Jim ended up slowing and dropping out around the 70 mile mark, and Jodi seemed to run out of gas as well, but added another exceptional finish to her ultra running resume. I think that they tend to run until they can’t any more, and then walk some to recover. I try to build walk breaks into my miles by run/walking, essentially running four minutes and then walking for 2. But am I doing enough walking?
As I mentioned above, I could hold 5.5 miles/hour fairly well, which gave me the expectations of easily going sub-24, but I tired and ended up slowing down in the last 15 miles pretty dramatically. I settled on a 4-minute run/2-minute walk method in order to give me a break and keep me from overdoing it. But I think it was still too fast. Since I hit the 5-mile mark around 50 minutes, I have tinkered with walking the remaining 10-minutes of every hour. This will give me an additional extended walking break, and still keep me on track. I will see how this goes.
GET THE NUTRITION DIALED IN – In my five Ironman races I have been fortunate to have been pretty consistent with my in-race nutritional needs. For some reason, I just struggle with it during training. Lately I have been a little better, but on race days I tend to skip eating solid food when I shouldn’t. Sometimes what the race is offering isn’t all that appetizing to me. Sometimes I don’t eat enough. My two Backyard Ultra races this year I struggled both times with getting enough food, even though I was trying to do better. It’s tough to run on a full stomach, so I might have to experiment with eating more over a longer period of time, rather than just scarfing down a bunch of food in a 2-3 minute break.
So there you have it, I’m sticking to the plan, trusting it, doing the work, and trying to avoid the mistakes. I just hope I’m not overthinking it. Future updates to follow, I’m sure. Thanks for reading.
I got some new shoes the other day and immediately felt faster. I wasn’t actually faster, but I felt like I was. I could think of a couple of reasons that made me feel that way.
First, I have been running in black colored shoes. I used to avoid black shoes because they had the opposite effect on me – they made me feel slow for some reason. Black just seems clunky in my head. But black goes best with my winter running gear, and I guess I just carried black shoes over into the summer. My new shoes are a light grey and when I started the run I felt like an Olympian, running with speed and grace.
The second reason is a little more obvious, they were new, felt springy, and I was bouncing along with seemingly less effort. Feeling faster from a new pair of shoes should make it easier, I suppose.
After that initial fast-feeling run, I was surprised to see that I really wasn’t any faster than most of the recent runs I had been doing.
There are other times when I felt like a piece of gear made me “feel” faster. Going from a road bike to an aero bike surely made me feel faster, and when I stay in aero I should definitely be faster. I noticed once that I was riding on the trail with my friend John, sitting upright and having a chat and traveling at the same speed, but when I went down into aero without changing my cadence, I slowly started to edge ahead.
Sticking with the bike, I added a set of FLO aero wheels to it and immediately felt fast. Aero wheels make your bike look fast standing still. They just look cool – and fast! FLO makes good wheels and the price is among the least expensive in the aero wheel market, so buying a set made me definitely feel faster and part of the cool kids club. How much faster are they? My combo set of wheels will save you maybe 6-10 minutes in an Ironman, according to the FLO wheels website. https://blog.flocycling.com/carbon-wheels/how-much-time-will-flo-wheels-save-me/ Not exactly blazing speed, but you believe it makes a difference. Still worth it, even if looking cool makes you feel faster.
I also bought an aero helmet, which I had read once that can make one faster for a lot less than a set of aero wheels. I’m wearing the dumb thing in the picture at the top of this blog. I have to admit I don’t really feel faster wearing it. I feel rather silly, actually. I will toss it on for sprints, but I’m not sure the aero advantage of it outweighs the overall protection of a regular cycling helmet in the event of a crash. My aero helmet just seems less protective. The dumb things that are on my mind while just riding and racing a bike are sometimes pretty deep.
What else can make you feel faster? A new racing kit? For sure. A new pair of socks? Yes sir. But do they actually make you faster? Well, sometimes you just got to go with what makes you feel like you are.
I’d love to hear what makes you feel faster. Add some suggestions in the comments below.
I’ve heard people say that time seems to slow down when you fall, and you feel like you are falling in slow motion. But that hasn’t been my experience, quite the contrary. For the second time this year, I tripped and fell today and I barely was able to brace myself for the impact, just like the last time.
The first time I fell I was on my fifth loop of the WausaUltra Backyard Ultra in Wausau, Wisconsin back in late April. I was doing well and feeling pretty good as I closed in on twenty-one miles. But out of nowhere, something grabbed my toe, and down I went.
Today, I was pacing myself through a 10-mile run and was just coasting along on the paved bike path. It was pretty sunny and I had decided to head into the forest preserve for the much-appreciated shade. Once in the preserve, I had a choice to make; I could stay on the paved portion of the path, or I could live dangerously and run on the much more technical trail. Now, for the past few years, I had sworn off running on the dirt path because I was training for some big race and didn’t want to chance – get this – possibly tripping and injuring myself! But for some reason, my brain overrode that failsafe breaker switch, and happily, I trotted onto the tree root-laden path.
I wasn’t more than a quarter-mile into the path when I encountered a walker ahead of me, going in the same direction and wearing earbuds. I attempted to get his attention with two loud requests to pass and as I watched to see if I had got his attention, I got tripped up and down I went.
I seemed to fall with the same velocity as the first time, but I was actually able to instinctively tuck my arms underneath me and brace myself for the impact better than I did the last time. I kind of felt like a wide receiver that had been tackled by the ankles and was glad to know that I was still holding on to the football. It’s comforting to know that I’m getting better at falling. Maybe someday I will be able to do a tuck and roll and pop right back up.
As I lay there looking at some gnarly roots and groaning loudly, I could hear the gentleman asking me if I was okay, repeatedly. I guess I had his attention now. I took an assessment of what happened and I quickly came to the conclusion that I am one dumb-ass trail-running fool. It was nice to know that the guy was able to see me embarrass myself in front of him. I think it was the fifth or sixth “Are you okay?” that I finally answered him with a “yeah, I’m okay.” I also added, “Why the fuck does this keep happening to me?!” It was a rhetorical question, and he didn’t answer it anyway.
What’s the old saying? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, if trees are anything like me, you bet your ass they do. There was a loud OOMPH! when I hit the ground. I got up and grumbled, and ran off down the path swearing loudly at myself – WTF? WTF? Dammit!
The last time I fell it was into some mud. You’d think that might have worked out better for me, but I must have hit the wooden plank footbridge first. This time I hit the dirt, but somehow managed to miss the bazillion roots that surrounded me. I looked and saw some abrasions, but no bumps or bruises this time around. I took my water bottle and rinsed the dirt out of my wound and continued down the path. Then I realized that I had to run the remaining four miles home looking like I had just ran a Tough Mudder or something.
I got home in one piece. I grabbed my phone to document my stupidity and then jumped into the pool to cool down and wash off the rest of the dirt from the fall. I think I’ll skip the trail running for a while. I’m not “falling” in love with falling.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?