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

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

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

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

So here’s the attempt at achieving my goal:

OCTOBER 17, 2020 – Attempt Number 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5:44!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chasing a Sub-6 Mile – Update #2

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

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

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

SEPTEMBER 7, 2020 – Attempt Number 3

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

SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 – Attempt Number 4

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

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

 

Chasing a Sub-6 Mile – Update #1

Chasing a Sub-6 Minute Mile

 

Chasing a Sub-6 Mile – Update #1

It’s been a couple of weeks since I declared that I’m attempting to run a sub-6 minute mile and it’s time for an update.  Here’s the link to the first post:  Chasing a Sub-6 Minute Mile

The summer here in the midwest has been typical – hot and humid – and my efforts have been influenced by that.  It’s no surprise that the hot weather will produce slower times and my running has fallen in line with that.  But I have been training fairly consistently and I’m seeing a few positives come my way.  And the weather this week turned much cooler and less humid, so I decided to give it another go.

First, I’ve dropped about 10 pounds from what I weighed over the winter months.  This winter weight gain is something I struggle with every year, but I generally lose the extra weight by mid-summer.  I currently weigh about 167 pounds, so another five or so pounds less might make me a little quicker.  I’ll keep that in mind.

The second positive is I ran to the local junior high school track last week and did a speedwork session of 4×400 repeats with a 400 recovery between each one.  It was a warm day and somewhat windy.  I wasn’t trying to do it for any other purpose other than to put in some work at a faster pace.  But I was very happy to see that I turned in those 400-meter laps in 1:30, exactly the time I need to be at a 6-minute mile.  Now, each 400 was followed by a recovery 400 in which allowed my heart rate and breathing to recover.  If I could string those four laps together though I would meet my goal.  I’m not counting that workout as an official attempt because it was broken into four segments, but I did get a huge confidence boost from it.

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I learned a little about pacing those 400’s as well.  The first one seemed to be the hardest. I went hard from the start and felt like I was fading at the end.  The second 400 was run similarly.  When I did my third and fourth 400 I decided to hold back at the beginning and little and push hard at the end.  That seemed to be the best way to approach it as I didn’t feel like I was dying by the end of 200 meters and staggering at the end.  That will probably be my approach to any further efforts and time trial runs.  Also, I am aware that I only ran 1600 meters and a mile is 1609 meters, so I will have to keep that in mind if I do further time trials on the track instead of the trail/road.

 

AUGUST 4, 2020 – Attempt Number 2

  • TIME:  6:25.2
  • WHERE:  MOKENA JR. HIGH SCHOOL TRACK
  • WEATHER:  72 degrees, cool wind from the north, low humidity – a perfect day
  • LEAD-UP:  A rest day prior and an easy-paced 3-mile warm-up
  • COMMENTS:  This wasn’t going to be an official attempt as I was planning on just doing 8×200 and some 100 repeats, but it was such a nice day I decided to give it a go.  I’m glad I did.  My previous attempt came in at 6:32, so to shave off 7 seconds seems to be meaningful.  I’m still 26 seconds away from going sub-6, but at least I am moving in the right direction, time-wise.  The weather was definitely a factor, and I did also hold myself back a little at the beginning of the mile.  I wish I had hit my splits, but forgot on the first lap and then just went with it.  Here’s to progress!

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Chasing a Sub-6 Minute Mile

With the 2020 racing season canceled thanks to the dumb Covid-19 Coronavirus, I was left with a big hole where my Ironman training and race was.  What to do, what to do?  I thought about it for a little while and realized that I didn’t want to keep training for an Ironman that wasn’t going to happen and that I should probably dial it back some and maybe use this year as sort of a recovery from the heavy training I had been doing the past couple of years.  Yeah…  not going to happen.

Back in June I did something during my training that sparked an interest in me.  I work in law enforcement in a part-time, non-sworn support position, and I joined my department for the annual Torch Run to benefit Special Olympics.  I rode my bike about eight miles to get there that afternoon, ran the two miles with some coworkers to satisfy the event, and then for kicks I decided to see how fast I could run a mile.  I did it in 6:35.  And I thought, could I possibly run a sub-6 minute mile?  At age 56 and change?  It was definitely something I began to think about.

A month later, right after the race got canceled, I texted my Gunner teammates and  advised them that I was deferring my Ironman to Chattanooga in 2021 and that I was not going to follow the training plan for the rest of the year.  I also advised that I was going to shoot for the sub-6 minute mile.

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Johnny replied with this:

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Okay, now the game is ON!  Actually, I’m not sure if John was laughing at my super long text about what I was doing, or that I had declared that I was attempting another stupid goal.  John knows me well and knows that I will obsess over something that no normal person would do – the running streak that turned into 3+ years is a good example.  That’s probably it.  But whatever, I’m going for it!

In addition to the first time trial mile, I’m going to try to do at least one one-mile time trial per week.  I will still do my typical three bikes a week and run on alternating days.  I am going to add some speed sessions to my run workouts and probably run some hill repeats as well.  My Ironman training plan had some intervals and repeats in them, but I want to focus a little more on shorter and harder efforts.

I’m starting this in mid-July, and it’s been hot and humid lately.  I hope to see improvement throughout the next month, but I will probably need a very good weather day for my attempt.  I’m also looking to scope out the best location to do the mile.  A slight descent on a straight, uninterrupted portion of the trail might be a good option.  I considered doing it on the track, but my son Ben said that GPS doesn’t work very well on the track if I want to use that as my official certifying distance and time.  I do want proof.  The last time I attempted a mile personal best was when I was in my late twenties, on an indoor track at Highland Park, IL High School.  Ten laps around the small indoor track was a mile and I spent a few weeks working my way down to a 5:29 minute personal best.  It was just me and the track and my Timex back then, so not all that official.  I’m also thinking of having Ben pace me on my serious attempts.  He’s game and that’s no problem for the kid.

Below is a short journal of my recent attempts:

 

JUNE 11, 2020 – The Mile That Woke Me Up

  • TIME:  6:35.2
  • WHERE:  New Lenox Commons, approximately 1/3 mile loops
  • WEATHER:  Sunny, windy, warm and humid, midday
  • LEAD UP:  I biked to get there, ran an easy two-mile warm-up, then did the mile
  • COMMENTS:  The loop has an incline and decline and it was a little windy that day

 

JULY 19, 2020 – The First Attempt

  • TIME:  6:32.1
  • WHERE:  LINCOLN-WAY CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL TRACK
  • WEATHER:  Mid-70’s but very warm and humid following a day-long storm
  • LEAD-UP:  I jogged a three-mile warm-up to get there and that was probably one mile too many.
  • COMMENTS:  I strained my back earlier in the day and was having a little discomfort with that, but I still ran as hard as I could.  The track definitely felt warmer than when I was running in the shade on the trail to get there.  I was forced to use lane 4 as my lane as lanes 1, 2, and 3 were flooded out from the storm in one turn from the earlier rain.  Ben was right when he said that GPS may not record me very accurately on the track.

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I was in lane 4 the entire time.  Nice job, GPS.  That last diagonal line is when I finished the mile and then hit resume after walking 100 meters.

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Mile 4 was my time trial mile.

 

Here are the links to the attempt updates:

Chasing a Sub-6 Mile – Update #1

Big Hill Bonk Race Update

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My first attempt at doing an ultramarathon distance running event will have to wait, as the race director has informed us that the officials in the town and county in which our event is being held have told him that he cannot have the event at this time.  In a world that has been overrun by a virus that no one really knows enough about, caution must be exercised to avoid a fate worse than the pandemic that has already been declared.

The race director has given us a ray of hope, however, by informing us that the race isn’t canceled but rather postponed until late October.  That made me feel a lot better about this dumb running event because I wasn’t really prepared for it as I would have liked.  After overdoing it in the fall with an Ironman, a marathon, and a couple of local road races in a span of a month and a half, I needed to give my 56-year-old legs a break rather than continue to beat them up.  I had created an ultra training plan and then kept editing it down in mileage after my persistent leg injury just wouldn’t heal.  I finally got it down to what was similar to a marathon training plan, but I was still cutting runs short and running slower to make sure that I could at least get to the starting line of this dumb idea.  After going up to Beloit and running three loops of the course I felt pretty good about having a good chance of at least reaching my goal of getting over 50K.

So maybe I might be better off running the race in the fall and take advantage of a full summer of training.  But then I checked the calendar and see that the new race date falls on October 23, 2020, twelve days after Ironman Louisville.  At first, I thought that the new race date might be too close to the Ironman for me to have enough time to recover, but I think I might be alright.  My current plan is to now train for the Ironman for the next 30 weeks since I have made it my “A” race, and then take the days leading up to the ultramarathon event very easy or off and show up being adequately prepared.  One thing I have learned about Ironman training is that it will get me ready for anything.

See you in October for the Big Hill Bonk – Last Runner Standing!

Big Hill Bonk Course Preview Run

 

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BIG HILL BONK – LAST RUNNER STANDING TRAINING REPORT UPDATE

In 2013 I learned the value of knowing what I was getting into when it comes to a race that I had signed up for.  I had joined my lifelong buddies Dave and John in signing up for Ironman Wisconsin in 2013 and we were definitely newbies to the sport.  We basically chose Madison for our first Ironman because it was the closest to us.  But we also had heard that the bike course was one of the toughest on the Ironman circuit.  So we went up to Madison to ride the course and see what it was about.  What it was about for me was a demoralizing, soul-crushing experience.  I had the pleasure of getting three flat tires and a broken spoke and the humiliation of watching Dave and John ride the course easily while I struggled.  It almost broke me.  I really thought that I might not be able to get through the ride come race day.  But fortunately, it was early in the training and as I got fitter and became a better rider the course didn’t seem so tough when I rode it again in practice a month or so later.  On race day, I knew the course well.  I rode it confidently and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

When the opportunity for an informal course preview for the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing came up, I clicked on the “GOING” button and made plans to go see what it was about.  I had looked at the race location on Google Maps many times.  I had looked at the photos that had been posted there as well as the photos that are on the Ultra Signup page for the event, but I got the feeling that they weren’t telling the whole story of this course.  So my local running friend Jodi, who is also doing this dumb running event, and I jumped in my car and headed to Beloit, Wisconsin to run about four loops of the course.

When we arrived we were pleased to see that others had also decided to check out the course and we were greeted by the race director Tyler, who greeted me by saying had read my previous blog (My First Ultramarathon?) and loved it.  Tyler answered our questions and then led us for our first loop and look at the course.

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Can’t miss this sign, nor the apropos name of the park.

The run start and finish are located at the Welty Environmental Center.  The group of about 18 runners took time for a quick photo and then we were off.

Tyler led us down the road a little bit until we came to a small opening in the fence line.  This led to a little grassy path that was about 0.5 miles in length and wasn’t all that remarkable.

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Leaving the road and heading onto the grass.

 

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The grassy path led to a paved bike route that we weren’t on for too long.  We were encountering some slick snowy and icy spots and were glad to have worn trail shoes.  Hopefully, the snow will be gone on race day.

 

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The paved bike path ended quickly and we were led to a trail that quickly became steep and tough to run up due to the icy conditions.  Those with more experience than what I have walked this hill and I followed suit.

 

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The hill eventually leveled off and led to an opening in the woods where there is a nearby toilet about 1.5 miles from the start.  We get to run on paved roads again until we hop onto a trail that will take us quite a bit down in elevation.  Jodi seemed to be enjoying this run a little too much.

 

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This picture and the others I took of the hill do not do it justice.  It was a pretty steep grade at points, and icy too.  We tried to stay far right because we were afraid of slipping and getting thrown down the hill.  I’m guessing this is the hill in the name Big Hill Park.

 

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The layout of the course, including a few missed turns and a detour to use the toilet.  Lots of slow mile splits thanks to walking the icy hills and slowing for the snowy and muddy parts.

 

The rest of the route included more paved, grassy and muddy trails that were mostly flat and not as challenging as the giant hill we had just walked up.  We finished the first loop in about 48 minutes, which is was much slower than what I was anticipating.  We did two more loops for practice and by then we had learned enough to be satisfied that we were familiar enough with the course and what we were going to be facing.

So what were the main lessons learned?  Here are the key points for me:

  • The hills will need to be respected and I will definitely power walk up them.  No sense in burning energy that I can save for later and walking will be much less taxing on my quads.  There’s about 350 feet of elevation gain per loop.  That will take a toll after a while.
  • Our time per loop of about 50 minutes or so was influenced by the icy conditions on a lot of the trail.  I would guess an ice-free course will take me about 5 minutes less per loop.
  • The distance from the runner rest area to the start/finish is not far enough to worry about it.  If the weather is bad though, I was planning to stay in my car in between loops, which is a little farther away.  I’ll have to make a game-day decision on where to relax between loops if it is really bad out.
  • TRAIL SHOES ARE A MUST!  I have been breaking in a new pair of Hoka One One Challenger ATR’s trail shoes to use if I needed them and this preview proved that I will definitely need them.  One thing I learned about the shoes though was that even though they were fairly new and just broken in, they kind of felt worn out by the time I finished the third loop.  My foot seemed to move around more in them as I navigated the terrain.  I may have to tighten the shoestrings a little and hope that I don’t get ten blackened toenails by the end of my tour of this dumb running event.
  • Although there were some logs to jump over and some gnarly tree roots and other loose impediments to concern myself with, they weren’t overly technical.  However, running over these things in the dark maybe be quite the challenge.  I will definitely be relying on my headlamps and I may even carry a small flashlight to use on the steep downhills.
  • I will need to bring extra running gear.  We started the day with a very chilly temperature of about 25 degrees or so and I was sweating pretty good.  We did notice that when we were in the woods it felt warmer than the open areas.
  • I felt pretty good after each of the three loops I ran.  They weren’t overly taxing on my legs, and I think I will easily manage 5 to 8 loops.  After that, I have no idea.  I will be very proud of whatever distance I can accomplish for this course.  It was much tougher than the flat paved trail that I normally run.

So there you have it, I got a run in on a course that I knew nothing about, got a few questions answered by the awesome race director Tyler, and learned enough about the course to be pretty confident come race day.  Looks like this dumb running event might turn out to be pretty fun.

 

The Dumb Running Event – Training Update

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BIG HILL BONK – LAST RUNNER STANDING TRAINING REPORT

I’ve been pretty quiet about my training for this dumb running event so I thought I would write a quick update on how everything is going.

To recap, the dumb running event I signed up for is called “The Big Hill Bonk – Last Runner Standing” and consists of 100 runners lining up at 5:30 pm on a Friday night in early April in Beloit, Wisconsin to run 4.16-mile loops, one hour at a time until everyone quits except one last runner.  That runner will be required to run one more 4.16-mile loop and will then be declared the “winner” of this dumb running event.  As a reminder, I will not be that runner.  Based on the results of other Last Runner Standing format races, I’m guessing the winner will more than likely last between 150 and 200 miles.  I will most certainly “bonk” way before the last runner does.  So the whole challenge for me to run this dumb running event is to see if I can get to a distance that qualifies as an “ultramarathon” distance, typically 50K (about 31 miles) and run farther than I ever have run before.

When I signed up for this dumb running event in May 2019, I was training for my fourth Ironman and feeling pretty good.  Then I did the Ironman, followed it up with a marathon a couple weeks later, raced an 8-mile race pretty hard and finished in the top 10, and then ran a turkey trot on Thanksgiving Day.  Suddenly, after two months of pushing myself, I wasn’t feeling so good anymore.  My muscles ached, my flexibility was gone, and in general, I was in need of some serious recovery time.  Then the back of my leg behind the knee area started to hurt, especially after running, so I self-diagnosed myself with the worst possible running injury and decided to cool it for a while.  I took some time off and worked on making my leg feel better.

I had gifted my son a muscle massage gun for Christmas and he and his running partner/girlfriend raved about it, so I thought it might help me as well.  Then I remembered how much those suckers cost and wondered if there was a cheaper option.  I saw a post online about someone saying they had built their own version of a massage gun out of a jigsaw and a lacrosse ball with an adapter.  After looking at a few do-it-yourself videos, I figured I had nothing to lose.  After finding the jigsaw on Amazon, I discovered some smarter than me entrepreneurs had already come up with a set of four massage end pieces and a couple of adapters that you could buy and not have to build your own.  So for a little more than $100, I had myself a cheap, albeit LOUD, muscle massager.

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Massaging away the soreness after a long run.

I had to re-edit my training plan a few times to give me some extra rest to recover from the sore leg issues, so some of the high mileage weeks that I had originally planned for were removed.  The plan now more resembles a typical marathon training plan and will have to do.

Slowing down my running tempo and massaging and stretching really helped my leg feel better, so I think I will be prepared enough to at least make a good attempt at reaching my goal for this dumb running event.  I’ve got about 5 weeks left to train and hopefully will see some good running weather soon.  I hate running in the cold and on the treadmill.

A couple of things I have learned so far:

  • Although I have been feeling pretty good while running, I had been finishing the last mile or two of my long runs feeling pretty wiped out.  I realized that I hadn’t been taking any nutrition with me for runs bordering 1.5 to 2 hours in length.  No wonder I was feeling so wiped out at the end.  I haven’t been bringing hydration with me either.  Time to correct those mistakes.
  • My midweek training run this week called for a 10 to 12-mile run.  It was cold outside and I was dreading that as well as having to run inside.  But then I thought  “Why not do a practice run-through of the dumb running event format on the treadmill instead of a straight 10-miler?”  So that’s what I did.  I ran 4.16 miles at 9:22 min/mile and finished in 39 minutes.  Then I sat around on a bench with sweat dripping off of me for twenty minutes.  My plan for the dumb running event was to run about this pace and give myself some rest and recovery time, but now I’m not so sure that’s a great idea.  As that twenty minutes of rest ended, I hopped back on the treadmill and held the same pace again for another 4.16 miles.  I quickly realized that I now smell pretty bad.  I’m not sure I want to run with myself smelling like B.O. for another 4.16 miles, but I pressed on.  At the end of that loop, I took a bathroom break and then changed into a clean and dry shirt and visor.  I also put some deodorant on and felt much better about myself.  I did one more 4.16-mile loop and added just a little extra to finish with a total of 12.5 miles.  I really felt dehydrated after that workout and spent the rest of the afternoon being thirsty and trying to drink more fluids.  It was a worthwhile workout, though.  I learned that I will stink after one loop and that I better drink more.
  • I saw a post on the Facebook page for this dumb running event that mentioned a group run to get a preview of the course that we will be running on.  I clicked that I would attend and look forward to getting in some practice running on that particular trail.  My plan calls for a 16-mile run that day, so four loops of the course would be the plan.  I’ll see what my friend Jodi has planned for that day and play it by ear.  We may carpool up there.  I wonder how she will feel about smelling my sweaty self in a car for a couple hours driving back home.
  • Ironman Louisville training is supposed to start in the second week of March, but I think that I will just let the first few weeks slide, finish my dumb running event, give myself some time to recover and then jump into the plan on whatever training week of the 30-weeks I’m supposed to be on.

 

So there you have it.  If I find something interesting to post in the upcoming weeks I will certainly do so.  Lastly, there are less than ten spots left in this dumb running event.  Why not join me and sign up?  It’ll be fun!

That’s Probably A Bad Idea. Do It!

A local running/triathlete friend of mine advised me the other day that he has a friend who is considering racing an iron-distance race but has already signed up for a marathon that is two weeks after the Ironman.  My friend remembered that I had dealt with the same issue last year and asked if I wouldn’t mind if she contacted me to discuss it.  Of course, I didn’t mind, and I am flattered, but I haven’t heard from her yet.  But it got me thinking about what I would actually tell someone that is considering such a dumb idea.  As you read the below keep in mind that I am not a certified expert, not a coach, and really not qualified to tell anyone how to do anything.  It’s just my experience and how I dealt with it.

WHY DID I DO SUCH A DUMB THING AS TO SIGN UP FOR TWO BIG RACES SO CLOSE TO EACH OTHER?

In 2017 my teammates and I were debating about doing Ironman Louisville, which was on the same day as the 2017 Chicago Marathon.  I kind of wanted to do the marathon since it was the 40th anniversary of the race, but I knew if we chose to race the Ironman I would have no problem skipping the marathon, and that’s what happened.  I returned to the Chicago Marathon in 2018 because I have legacy status and want to retain it.

Although I was getting a little tired of running Chicago and figured that all I needed to do to keep my legacy status was to sign-up every other year, I signed up for it again because the window to apply was pretty short and I needed to make a decision.  Not long after that, my buddies decided we were going to do Ironman Chattanooga.  That put the late-September 2019 Ironman race two weeks prior to the October marathon on my race calendar.  Of course, I wasn’t going to skip the Ironman with my friends, so I thought that maybe I should defer the marathon to the next year for a small fee.  But then I figured that I would just race the Ironman and take a victory lap at the Chicago Marathon and walk away from it for a while.  So that was the plan, train hard and race the Ironman and take it easy for the marathon.

HOW DID I TRAIN FOR THE TWO DIFFERENT RACES?

That really wasn’t an issue for me, seeing that there is an actual marathon in an Ironman race.  So I followed the Ironman training plan that I always follow and just figured that I would use the two weeks in between the two events to recover.  Ideally, I would have preferred my marathon training long-run to be around 20 miles and three weeks prior to my marathon, but that wasn’t going to happen.  I just needed to make sure I utilized the two weeks between Chattanooga and Chicago for recovery and not overdo it.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

My plan got flipped upsidedown.  And it resulted in a Boston Qualifier!  A BQ was never in the plan!  The weather turned extremely hot at Ironman Chattanooga, with day time temperatures hitting the mid-nineties with a “real feel” around 100 degrees.  Definitely the hottest day I have had to race in.  I had to adjust the race plan to fit the conditions of the day, but I only really did that because it forced me to do so.  The swim took me a little longer than I expected because the water was too warm to compete in a wetsuit, so I opted to swim without it.  The bike for me was right about what I normally ride for an Ironman – 6:47.  And Chattanooga has an extra 4 miles of biking than all the other Ironman races.  The marathon, however, was very humbling.  Right out of transition I stopped and told my wife that I felt pretty good, all things considered.  I started out with a good jog and started to head out of town and then it was an uphill grind in the hot sun. I slowed to a walk and was able to shuffle just occasionally.  And then the horrible hills hit and I walked some more.  I spent the first half of the marathon trying to recover and finish the race under the cutoff.  I was seriously doing the math in my head to make sure I knew what I had to do.  And then the second loop began and I started feeling pretty good.  I had rehydrated and refueled myself well enough to press pretty hard in the second half.  I finished pretty strong and felt really good.  The 5:11 finish time is my personal worst (PW ?) for a marathon, but I was pretty happy with my 13:37 overall finish time.   You can read my race report here:  2019 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

I took it pretty easy and tried my best to recover from the Ironman prior to running the Chicago Marathon.  After a full week of rest I “eased” back into running with four runs of 5, 6.5, 10 and 4 miles and then rested three days before the marathon.  I can remember my muscles still feeling pretty sore but they felt functional enough to run pretty comfortably.  The 10-miler I ran was done at 8:34 pace and it gave me some confidence that I might be able to push myself in the race a little bit.  I decided that a sub-3:35 BQ might be reachable, so I planned to run 8-minute miles and shoot for a 3:30.

Things went pretty well during the race and I held pace until I started to struggle with it in the last 5 miles or so.  Although I kept at my nutrition well, I was getting pretty tired.  I knew the 3:30 wasn’t going to happen, but I kept pushing to hit that 3:35.  I turned and ran up Mt. Roosevelt until a calf cramp almost did me in.  Fortunately, the race was almost done and I made it in just under the BQ by 13 seconds!  3:34:46 was my time, and although a BQ-13 isn’t going to get me into the Boston Marathon field, I am now up to three BQ’s, with one really memorable Boston Marathon finish in 2018.  I can’t complain about that.

Here’s my race report from the marathon:   2019 Chicago Marathon Race Report

WHY DO I THINK I DID BETTER THAN I EXPECTED AT CHICAGO?

I think there are a couple factors at play.  The Be Iron Fit training program I follow for Ironman training is really good and it prepared me well.  I’ve never felt underprepared using this plan in my four Ironman finishes.  So not only was I prepared for the Ironman, I was also pretty well prepared for the marathon two weeks later.

But the real reason I think I did well was that the heat of the day at Chattanooga forced me to not overdo it on the marathon portion of the race.  By having to walk about half of it, it saved my legs to the point that the next day I sauntered down to the Ironman Village to buy my finisher’s jacket like a BOSS!  I felt like I hadn’t even run a marathon the day before.

SO WHAT IS MY ADVICE TO OTHERS THINKING OF DOING THE SAME DUMB THING?

I think you need to pick what race is most important to you.  If you have a specific time goal for a marathon or possibly a BQ, I would advise you to focus your training on that goal and not sabotage it by adding a less meaningful race that could possibly prevent you from doing your best in the race that matters more.  Pick your “A” race and use the other race to supplement it if you are convinced that you want to still do both events.

If you really want to also do the Ironman in the same year, maybe pick one that is a couple of months out from the marathon.  I read a post the other day stating that you should give yourself a couple of months of recovery between Ironman races; that is pretty sound advice that I would agree with.  I did Ironman Lake Placid in July 2016 and then raced the Chicago Marathon in October and got my second BQ and stamped my ticket to the 2018 Boston Marathon.  So for me, there definitely was some precedent in racing an Ironman and a marathon in the same year with positive results.

I did this when I was almost 56 years old.  It takes me a lot longer to recover from races than it did in my 30’s and 40’s.  So maybe a younger person might be in a better position to do an Ironman and a marathon a couple of weeks apart.  But if you are just out to enjoy both races, I have to admit that it can be done without ruining yourself.

Lastly, if this is your first Ironman make sure you are aware of what is involved with it.  Marathon training and racing are tough, but Ironman training is pretty intense too.  Also, if you think marathon entry fees and hotels are expensive, plan on the Ironman being nearly triple that cost.  Ironman is not cheap.

WOULD I EVER DO THIS DUMB THING AGAIN?

Nope.  Never.  Not a chance.  No way, José!

Actually, as I was typing this post I took a break to sign up for the 2020 NYC Marathon Lottery, which is three weeks past Ironman Louisville, a race I already signed up for.

Don’t tell my wife.

 

2019 Running and Triathlon Year in Review

 2019 RUNNING AND TRIATHLON YEAR IN REVIEW

I had another great year of running and creating memorable moments in 2019.  So very thankful that I can still do what I enjoy doing and reflecting back on the memories I made.  I have kept track of my running miles since 1989, so I only tally up the number of runs, miles, and time spent running in my stats.  Here’s how 2019 went for me with running and triathlon.

JANUARY – Not much to reflect upon here.  Most were treadmill runs and nothing out of the ordinary.

  • Total Runs:  14
  • Average Weekly Miles:  22.4
  • Total Hours:  11.8
  • Total Miles:  89.5

 

FEBRUARY – Another winter month to get through and focus on recovery.

  • Total Runs:  10
  • Average Weekly Miles:  15
  • Total Hours:  9
  • Total Miles:  60

 

MARCH – Ironman Chattanooga training begins! I chose to be a little loose with the training this time around starting out by following the “Just Finish” plan but then decided to commit to the competitive plan like usual.  I did drop the swimming down considerably, mostly just doing two 45-minute swims per week.  The monthly totals for March reflect what miles the beginning stages of the plan prescribes, plus some time off for a trip to Nashville to see some colleges with Rebecca.

  • Total Runs:  12
  • Average Weekly Miles:  12.1
  • Total Hours:  7
  • Total Miles:  48.3

 

APRIL – Weekly training going well, as long as I don’t ruin things for myself.  For example –  I’m My Own Worst Enemy

  • Total Runs:  16
  • Average Weekly Miles:  23.8
  • Total Hours:  14
  • Total Miles:  95

 

MAY – Still swim/bike/run training and getting into the swing of things.

  • Total Runs:  18
  • Average Weekly Miles:  24.8
  • Total Hours:  13.3
  • Total Miles:  99

 

JUNE – I officially kicked off the racing season this month with a 5K and a sprint triathlon in June.  (See below for the race reports.)

 

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Me with my Short Run on a Long Day 5K age group medal post-race, trying to stay dry.

 

  • Total Runs:  20
  • Average Weekly Miles:  30
  • Total Hours:  17.5
  • Total Miles:  119

 

JULY – Time for a vacation and some more racing!

 

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The final stretch of the 2019 Manteno Tri.

 

  • Total Runs:  20
  • Average Weekly Miles:  33
  • Total Hours:  19.5
  • Total Miles:  130

 

AUGUST – It got hot just as the training ramped up big time.

 

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Just two Ironman trainees wondering why we love this sport so much.

 

  • Total Runs:  19
  • Average Weekly Miles:  38.4
  • Total Hours:  23.4
  • Total Miles:  154

 

SEPTEMBER – September came with the wrapping up of 30-weeks of Ironman training and racing a very hot 2019 Ironman Chattanooga.  Even with the heat and all the suffering, it was an epic day.

 

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The first 100 feet of the Ironman Chattanooga marathon leg.

 

  • Total Runs:  19
  •  Average Weekly Miles:  36.7
  • Total Hours:  22.5
  • Total Miles:  146.6

 

OCTOBER – I debated with myself as to whether I should defer the Chicago Marathon to 2020 seeing that it was two weeks after Ironman Chattanooga, but I committed to it and decided to see if I could parlay all that Ironman training into another Boston Marathon qualifier.  I did!  But not by much.

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If it wasn’t for the crappy winds, the day would have been perfect marathon running weather.  

  • Total Runs:  15
  • Average Weekly Miles:  24
  • Total Hours:  13.5
  • Total Miles:  95.7

 

NOVEMBER – Looking back at 2018, November 2019 was almost a mirror image in terms of the stats below.  I ran a couple of races, which probably did more damage to me than good.

2019 ACE Wheaton Hot Cider Hustle Saturday (30 of 1951)
The start of the 2019 Hot Cider Hustle, Wheaton, IL.  I’m in 2nd place!  It didn’t last long.

  • Total Runs:  13
  • Average Weekly Miles:  21
  • Total Hours:  12
  • Total Miles:  84

 

DECEMBER – I paid for the four races I did, which ended up causing me some weird leg left leg/knee pain.  I never had pain in the rear portion of the leg/knee area before.  It wouldn’t hurt during the run really, but afterward, I would have some dull pain that would linger.  I would rest it a few days and then feel fine only to go back out and get the same result.  I decided to shut down running on December 26th for the rest of the year.

  • Total Runs: 12
  • Average Weekly Miles: 17.9
  • Total Hours: 11
  • Total Miles: 71.5

 

2019 RUNNING TOTALS

  • Total Runs:  188
  • Average Weekly Miles:  25
  • Total Hours:  174.5
  • Total Miles:  1193.2

 

LIFETIME RUNNING TOTALS (31st Year of Running)

  • Total Lifetime Runs:  4777 – 154 runs per year average
  • Total Lifetime Hours:  3509.5 – 113 hours per year average
  • Total Lifetime Miles:  26188 – 844 miles per year average

 

2019 RACE REPORTS

I had a pretty successful year racing again, getting some more age group and finisher medals to add to my collection.  Here are the summaries with a link to the race recaps.

 

TRIATHLON REVIEW

I think I had a pretty good year with triathlon.  Ironman training went well and ended with a very good effort on an extremely hot day in Chattanooga.  And I medaled in the other two sprint tri’s that I did, which is always the goal.  I’m really looking forward to another year of racing.

SWIM TOTALS:   Total Swims:  34  /  Total Distance:  69,461 yards (39.5 miles)

BIKE TOTALS:  Total Rides:  132  /  Total Miles:  3694

 

GOALS FOR 2020

In May I registered for a race that had piqued my interest.  The race is called the “Big Hill Bonk” (read about it here: My First Ultramarathon?) and is in Beloit, Wisconsin in early April 2020.  It’s an elimination/last runner standing type race format in which you run a 4.16-mile loop in an hour and keep doing that until only one runner is left.  So this run could be my first ultramarathon if I decide to keep going past eight loops.  I was training pretty well for it and starting to build some decent weekend long run miles, but the leg/knee injury thing has screwed up my training.  I think I will still be able to get to the starting line and get in enough loops to push me over 50K.

I decided to take a year off from running the Chicago Marathon.  I have legacy status, so I should be able to sign up again in 2020 for the 2021 race if I want to.  My Gunner teammates and I were discussing doing another Ironman in 2020, but I’m not sure how serious everyone is.  We’re at the point that we have done the races nearest to us and may to commit to traveling farther to do a different race, or just sign up for one we have already done.  A lot of the fun in doing them is experiencing a new race locale.  I hear that Ironman is returning to Idaho in 2021, so I definitely have it on my must-do list.  If the Gunners shoot for another go-around I will definitely be in.  I just have to fit it around getting my youngest off to college.  I’m not missing that.

If the Ironman thing doesn’t pan out and I survive the Big Hill Bonk run, I may look to sign up for a 100-mile ultramarathon.  I have a local friend who is fond of the Tunnel Hill 100 Miler in southern Illinois, but I have also eyed the Hennepin 100 race out by Sterling, Illinois.  We’ll see.  Got to get some experience first.

 

 

 

My First Ultramarathon?

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I may have signed up for my first ultramarathon.  May have, you ask?  Oh, I definitely put my name, age, sex and credit card number in the online entry form and hit submit.  And my name officially appears on the list of participants.  And I for sure plan on being in the field of the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing race on Friday, April 3, 2020, in Beloit, Wisconsin at 5:30 pm.  So what is the confusion?  Let me explain.

There’s a guy in Tennessee that goes by the name of Lazarus Lake.  That’s not his real name, but that’s not important.  Laz, as he is called, is the brainchild of a race called the Barkley Marathons, also known as the “race that eats its young.”  That particular race has people running through the hills of the Smokey Mountains for 100 miles in five 20-mile or so segment loops, and very few people even finish it.  It’s legendary and well worth watching the documentary if you haven’t seen it.  Highly entertaining.  But if the Barkley wasn’t enough to keep Laz busy, he decided to create another race called Big’s Backyard Ultra.  Big is his dog.  It’s his backyard.  You run through it.   A 4.166-mile loop every hour.  And then you do it again.  And again.  And again.  And again until there is only one runner left.  The last runner standing who finishes a solo loop in an hour after everyone else has dropped out is the winner.  Everyone else is a loser.  Actually, everyone else is declared a “DNF” – Did Not Finish.  For the first time in my racing and running lifetime, I will be a DNF.  Unless I outlast everyone else.  That’s not very likely.  The most recent winner of Big’s Backyard Ultra ran somewhere around 250 miles.  Three days of running.  I’m 56 years old and kind of know my limitations.  I won’t last that long.  I will be a DNF.

The overwhelmingly positive response to the Big’s Backyard Ultra in the ultra-running community has spawned other races, not just in the United States, but all over the world.  Many act as qualifying races for Laz’s race.  Actually, to gain entry into his race, now considered the “World Championship” you have to get a golden ticket, which is actually a gold coin with Big’s picture on it, and it’s only given out to the winner of the other Laz sponsored races.  I won’t get one because I will be a DNF.  I’m not even sure I will get a t-shirt out of this.

So, if I am not going to be the winner, and I am not going to even be listed as a finisher, and I’m not getting a t-shirt, then why the hell am I doing this?  Because it sounds awesome.

Three decades of running has taken me from getting around the block once, to dropping a couple of pounds to fit into my pants again, to racing local races, to running marathons, to giving triathlons and Ironman a try, to…  My point is that even though running eventually became part of the fabric of my life, it gets a little boring after a while, and you begin setting new goals and seeking out new adventures.  I’ve had ultras in the back of my mind for a long time, but I was always fairly content with marathons and Ironmans, which were plenty of a challenge for me.  But now I’m looking to explore a little more of what running has to offer before I get too old to experience it or enjoy it.  This race format popped up on my radar and I became intrigued.

What’s the draw of this race for me to get my first experience going past 26.2 miles?  Well, it’s unique for one.  Ultras usually have set distances – 31 miles or 50K being the typical minimum, 50 miles, 62 miles/100K, and 100 miles.  Pick one of them and run it.  The race format for a last runner standing race is very much open-ended.  Is there a finish line?  Well, yeah – sort of.  You cross it every loop, but then it immediately becomes 4.166 miles away again.  There’s really only one finish line, and that’s the one that the winner crosses – alone.  Again, probably not going to be me.  In this race, you could choose to get to any number of miles and then quit.  Or try to last for 24 hours before dropping.  It’s up to you how far you want to push yourself.  If I last 10 loops and get in 41.6 miles, that might do it for me.

Another factor for me is that it comes in manageable 4.166-mile segments.  Why 4.166-mile loops?  I was puzzled by the length of the loop too, thinking it was just another quirky aspect of Laz’s brilliance.  But in actuality, 4.166 X 24 hours = 100 miles in 24 hours.  So if you run twenty-four, 4.166-mile loops you will end up with 100 miles in a day.  What is nice about the distance is that it is something most runners can wrap their heads around.  Running a little more than 4 miles is no big deal.  Running 4.166 miles in an hour is really no big deal.  That’s like averaging around 14 minutes per mile.  Anyone who runs should be able to get through that in an hour.

Toss in that it’s fairly local for me, being only a couple of hours away, and that I feel pretty fit from all of the triathlon and marathon training I have done, it was easy for me to sign up.

So, will this be my first ultramarathon or not?  It’s still a valid question in my mind.  In the past, I have learned that I don’t do as well running spring marathons because I don’t train as well in the winter months in the Midwest as I do in the summer months for a fall marathon.  I’m always more fit in the fall than in the spring.  Secondly, I have no idea how to train for this race.  I’ve searched for training plans specific to this type of event and there really aren’t any.  Most trail and ultra runners just treat it like a normal ultramarathon, and they train as usual and race the event as if they are running a typical ultramarathon.  Which brings me to another issue:  pacing the run.  From what I can tell, most will try to plan to finish each 4.166-mile loop a little under one hour, leaving themselves just enough time to use the toilet, eat something, change some clothes if necessary, and then get back to the starting line for the next loop.  Ultrarunners know how to pace themselves, i.e. they run slow.  Very slow.  Sometimes they walk.  They know that fast tempos early will lead to some very sore and tired legs much sooner than they would like.  I’m a runner.  I can run 4.166 miles easily around 9 min/mile.  That will leave me with about 20 minutes to sit around and wait for the next lap. That was my initial plan, but now I’m thinking that might be a bad idea.  Will taking a 20-minute rest in a chair in between the hourly loops be an asset to me or be a really bad idea?

One last thing I need to emphasize is that this race, in particular, begins at 5:30 pm.  That time of day in April will most likely be getting near dark.  Sunset is at 7:25 pm.  I Googled it.  I will be running the majority of this run through the woods in the dark.  I’m not very experienced at that and sleep deprivation isn’t something I handle very well.  I got a feeling there will be a lot of caffeine involved in my nutrition and hydration planning.

April weather in Beloit can be anything, but I’m guessing it will be cool and possibly wet. I need to plan for all kinds of weather and be prepared.

Also on my mind about this race is what are my goals?  Since I’m pretty sure I probably won’t outlast the field, what do I want to get out of it?  Here are a couple of my main goals:

  • Do enough loops to make it past 31 miles/50K and satisfy the minimum ultramarathon distance.  That should be no big deal.  It’s just a few miles longer than a normal marathon.  But the real goal will be to make it to 100 miles.
  • Don’t be the first to drop.  I have looked at other race results and found races where there are plenty of dropouts after 1-2 laps.  I don’t want to be that guy.
  • Make it through the night.  Okay, this is going to be a challenge.  I hope I can stay awake because most nights I’m asleep by 10 pm.
  • Meet some cool people and enjoy the company.  It will be interesting to see how others approach the race and learn from them.
  • Stay out of the hospital.  I’ve visited the medical tents of past races and even though I have gained the knowledge needed to prevent the need to go there, I still sometimes push myself a little too hard.  This race will be new territory and I will really need to focus on how I am feeling.

I have a lot of questions yet to find answers to while I train the remaining four months for this race.  I will keep looking for insight and reading race reports to find the nuggets of information that I am looking for.

So did I actually sign up for my first ultramarathon?  Maybe.  It depends.  I don’t know.  We’ll see.  Hopefully, I did.  Possibly.