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.
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!
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.
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.
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.)
Total Runs: 20
Average Weekly Miles: 30
Total Hours: 17.5
Total Miles: 119
JULY– Time for a vacation and some more racing!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2019 Minocqua Turkey Trot 5K: 21:16 Official time / 13th Overall / 12th Place Male Overall / 1st Place M50-59 Age Group – 2019 Minocqua Turkey Trot 5K
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.
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.
The family was up north in Minocqua for Thanksgiving and four of us decided that doing the local turkey trot would be fun. Ben had already looked at the previous results from last year and figured he could easily beat the winner’s time by a couple of minutes. I was glad to see we could save a few bucks by signing up as a family, $90 for the four of us instead of $30 each on race day! What we hadn’t planned on was the snowstorm the day before.
The snowstorm caused the race director to alter the course and eliminate the trail portion of the run. The course was now changed to an out and back. The town took care of the snow for the most part, but the sidewalk and the streets we would run on still had some snow. Fortunately, due to the sand they throw around up there on the streets, the footing was pretty good.
So we all showed up, registered and then Kari and I went back to the car to keep warm while the real runners, Ben and Emily, went for a pre-race warm-up.
The start time approached and we all started gathering around the start banner. Ben had keyed on a kid wearing a Ripon College cross country shirt and figured he would stay with him until the end and out-kick him. Emily joined me and said she was going to run easy, which meant to go my pace, and I was glad to have the company. Kari took her spot away from the front and then the countdown began. 8… 7… 6… I hate when they do this because some guy always will jump the gun and go on 1, but here we were. 1… GO!
The race start was narrow and fed us almost immediately into a more narrow sidewalk, and that is when the festive mood of the race changed for me. A woman runner started to run almost directly at me from the left and I thought she was going to run into me so I held my arm up and kept her from bowling me over.
“YOU SHOVED ME, YOU ASSHOLE!”
For the record, I didn’t shove her. She didn’t even lose her balance. She just didn’t get to run into me like she was about to do. I explained to her that I was just keeping her from knocking me down, but damn, she was angry enough about it to call me an asshole. But now I was a little miffed. When you are a slow runner you shouldn’t be starting at the front of the race where the faster runners belong, and if you are going to cut someone off you better understand that the person you are cutting off isn’t going to like it. Why can’t these races just be fun and not end up with some weird, screwed-up occurrence? Happy Thanksgiving to you too, lady.
So with that incident on my mind, I tried to find a comfortable pace to run and try not to slip and fall on the snow-covered sidewalk. Emily and I made our way to the side street and to the turnaround point without any further issues. There were a couple of younger guys ahead of me wearing turkey outfits and I decided that I didn’t want to get beat by a couple of turkeys, so I started working on pulling them in. Emily had also decided to push ahead and leave me in her snowy dust. The first turkey I caught pretty quickly but it wasn’t until about a half-mile left of the race that I caught the second one. Another runner was ahead of me and I passed him as I was starting my last all-out kick, but he still had a kick left and then blew past me and started racing a high school kid up ahead that we were getting close to. I finished alone without any further challenges.
I looked at my watch and saw that the GPS recorded a distance of 2.90 miles and Ben and Emily said the same. The course was a little short, but no big deal.
Being called an “asshole” aside, it was a pretty good race for all four of us. Ben implemented his race plan and waited until 20 feet left to take the air out of the other kid and beat him by a second, winning the race. I think Ben enjoyed toying with his prey until the final moments. He won’t deny it. Emily was also first on the women’s side and both of them got turkeys for their wins. Kari was also on the podium with a 3rd place in her age group.
When we got home I was explaining to everyone what I did to get called an “asshole” and I demonstrated what she did with my daughter Rebecca. As I got close to Rebecca she instinctively put her arm up to keep me from running into her. There, I am vindicated!
Results: 57:32 / 9th Overall / 8th Place Male Overall / 2nd Place M55-59 Age Group
I started running this race in 2011 and this was my 5th time running it. It’s a fun race that is unique – an 8-miler, which you don’t see very often, it’s run in a nature preserve on mostly chipped limestone trail that meanders through some scenic Illinois prairie, and finishes the last half-mile or so on a grass horse track.
My goal for this race is always the same, finish the 8-miles in less than an hour and place in the age group and take home a medal. Mission accomplished!
I did a little shake-out run to see if I was dressed warm enough and was satisfied with what I had on. After a couple of bathroom trips and reading the paper in the car it was time to head to the start line.
The start line has this funnel start in which only one runner can pass through at a time, which is really an odd way of doing it, but there may be some method to that madness. Since this is a trail run and it’s only so wide, this gets the runners to spread out. The first banner in the starting area said 7-minute miles, then 8, 9 and so on. I came back from another quick heartrate boosting jog I took my spot in the 7-minute spot. I was by myself. I was looking around and it appeared no one else was going to join me. Really? None of you runners back there can beat a 56-year-old guy? I noticed one guy wearing a North Central hat and said get in front of me and he was turning me down saying that he really wasn’t in racing shape. Really? You’re a former runner of the top DIII Cross Country running school in the nation and you don’t think you have a chance of beating me or the rest of these guys?! I got behind him and told him just not to run too fast because I didn’t want to lose sight of him and get lost.
The guy doing the announcing yelled everything like it was the most exciting info you could hear and he always went up in pitch at the end. Things like how to line up, when the race was starting, etc., he made it sound exciting. He counted down to zero and an air horn blew and off we went.
North Central guy and I were 1-2 out of the gate and I was already throwing out my usual pre-race run plan, start comfortable and run negative mile splits. Nope, I redlined it from the start. After the first turn, I lost sight of North Central guy and started hearing the footsteps of others behind me. By the half-mile mark, I was passed by a group of 3 runners, including the top woman and was now in 5th place. Everyone ahead of me was younger until about the 3-mile mark when I finally got passed by another guy with grey hair wearing shorts. He was running at a good clip and put some distance on me in no time. And then I was alone again, which is where I find myself in every race.
At one point I passed a couple of high school kids monitoring the course to make sure that the runners don’t turn off course and they cheered me. I told them to cheer nice and loud for the next runner so I could get a feel how far back the next guy was. They didn’t let me down, and I heard loud cheering about 40-seconds later. Nice.
Around 4.25-miles into the race, I encountered a girl who was right ahead of me on the course, right after a point in the course where those behind were supposed to turn right and follow the loop. Since only one girl had passed me early in the race I knew right away that she didn’t make the turn. I asked her if she missed it and she said she decided to only run five miles of the course, pulled out her phone and that was the last I saw of her.
The rest of the race went pretty much how I expected it to go. I had brought along a gel, which seems kind of unnecessary for a race lasting less than an hour, but I couldn’t resist and started taking small nibbles from it. I’m glad I did because it did feel like I was suffering less.
When I would pass a turn I would look back and I could see a runner wearing a blue singlet behind me. He had been back there a while so I was hoping that the kick I had planned for the last mile or two would be enough to keep him at bay. Then I got to the portion of the course where the 5K turnaround was located and hit a wall of slow walkers not even halfway done with the 3.1 miles. This gets me going because they should know that they need to stay right and not block the rest of the racers. I did a lot of shouting “SHARE THE TRAIL!” at these people, and not in the same way the announcer dude was shouting stuff.
I finally made it to the horse track for the finish and was in the final turn when the guy in the blue singlet finally caught me and passed me. Got me riled a little knowing that he had been back there the whole time and waited to the very last 1/4-mile to overtake me, but whatever, that’s racing. I finished and was glad to be done.
Place: 8487th Place Overall / 6610th Male / 243rd Male 55-59 Age Group
Another Chicago Marathon is in the books! Here’s a “By-the-Numbers” look at my race.
9 – Number of Chicago Marathons I have started and completed.
21 – Total number of marathons run (including Ironman finishes).
3 – Where my finish ranks for the fastest marathon finish times for me (3:25 in 2016 & 3:28 in 2015, all at Chicago and all in my fifties.).
3 – Number of times meeting the Boston Marathon qualifying standard, all at Chicago.
13 – Seconds below the BQ at this race (3:35:00 is the BQ for my current age/sex).
0.000000000001 – Percent chance that I will get into the Boston Marathon with that slim margin.
0.0 – Percent chance that I will even apply for the Boston Marathon with that time.
2 – Number of weeks after completing Ironman Chattanooga that I ran this race.
97 – Minutes faster I finished the Chicago Marathon compared to the marathon split at Ironman Chattanooga (5:11).
27.1 – Miles that my Garmin watch recorded for the run. It was off by 2/3’s of a mile by the halfway point. It’s hard to plan splits when your watch gets off.
8:12 – Average pace minutes per mile (I was aiming for 8 min/mile).
7:13 – Best mile split, Mile 1
8:56 – Worst mile split, Mile 26
3 – The number of seconds Emily’s grandfather yelled at me that I was wasting by stopping to kiss Kari when I saw her and the group of family and friends that came to watch Emily and I (okay maybe just Emily) race. I wasn’t expecting to see Kari that early in the morning because she had a long night on Saturday. So I took 3 seconds to appreciate that. Worth it. Should have spent four seconds.
1:45:00 – Halfway (13.1 miles) split, a perfect 3:30 pace split (Nailed it!).
0 – Number of times I stopped for a bathroom break.
1 – Number of times I peed into an empty Gatorade bottle shoved discreetly down my pants in the start corral before the start.
4 – Number of guys who stood next to me in the corral and whizzed openly on the curb.
41 – Degrees Fahrenheit at the start of the race.
45786 – Number of finishers.
187 – Average run cadence/steps per minute for me.
156 – Average heart rate/beats per minute for me. Seems high. I wasn’t working that hard.
2919 – Number of calories burned, according to my Garmin.
51331 – Number of steps total for the day.
6 – Mile where you turn back south and get a whiff of the strong smell of breakfast being served at some restaurant along the course. It makes me angry every time because I want to stop and eat pancakes and can’t.
1 – Number of times I said to myself during the race that I am not enjoying this anymore, somewhere around Mile 8. Yeah, I know, pretty early on and it was due to the cold wind that was blowing on me all of a sudden. The wind was pretty strong and cold at times.
2/3 – Portion of the race that I kept my gloves on for.
Numerous – Number of spectators I saw trying to cross the gauntlet of runners to get to the other side of the street, which is really a dumb idea and really ticks me off.
1 – Number of spectators I saw wipe out trying to cross the gauntlet of runners to get to the other side of the street, landing with a pretty hefty thud, which caused me to laugh and call him a dumbass.
2 – The number of Ben’s friends (Adam and Colin) still hanging out around Mile 22 that I saw and High-5’d. It was a welcome boost.
4’9″ – The estimated height of the girl that I spent the majority of the race running with, usually behind her because she had such an arm swing going that I was afraid she would punch me with it. It’s interesting that after a couple of miles into the race that you will be running with the same people for the majority of the rest of it.
3:25 – The finish time I was predicting for myself at the halfway point.
3:30 – The finish time I was predicting for myself at the 20 Mile mark.
3:35 – The finish time I was praying for with one mile to go so that I would be under the time cutoff for a Boston Qualifier.
1 – Number of hills of any significance on this course – located at Roosevelt Road, AKA Mt. Roosevelt, which comes at Mile 26. It’s a nothing hill but comes at the end and I started to cramp up and had to walk some of it.
0 – Desire to do this race again.
Okay, that’s enough of the numbers. Here is the report in a nutshell. The race went pretty well for me. I was a little concerned that I would not have been recovered enough after finishing Ironman Chattanooga two weeks prior to running this race. But seeing that Chattanooga was so hot and that I walked/jogged the vast majority of it, the Ironman didn’t really beat me up that much. I actually felt pretty good after it. So I decided to push myself in Chicago and shoot for a 3:30.
I had one layer too many on at the start and the windbreaker that was getting me too warm and making me sweat was handed off to Kari in the early miles. The temperature was awesome, but the occasional gust of wind would jolt you pretty strongly. I was taking on water and Gatorade as well as hitting the gels every 30 minutes, which I increased in the latter part of the race. I felt that my energy level was good, but my muscles were just not responding and getting more tired and sore as the miles added up.
I wouldn’t say that I hit a wall, but I did feel like the last 5K was a battle of will for me. I really dug deep in that last mile and a half. I could see that my pace was slowing even though I felt like I was giving it everything I could. It seemed like I was passing a lot of people at the end, but that’s not unusual. Then I finished and was relieved.
Now the fun part starts.
After crossing the finish I tried to keep moving forward. My hands started to tingle and I could feel myself starting to get a little lightheaded. I grabbed a water bottle and started drinking it. A medal was placed around my neck by some bearded guy and I worked my way through the chute. One thing about the marathon finish chute is that there isn’t any place to sit down. That’s by design, they don’t want you to stop moving or it will clog up everything for the remaining runners coming in, and it is in your best interest to keep moving so you don’t start cramping.
It wasn’t long and a girl ahead of me dropped to the ground and started screaming in pain, raising her leg up. Clearly, she was having a bad leg cramp, but the volunteers didn’t have a clue what to do with her. As I stepped around her I assured myself that they would help her, and I did that because I didn’t want to BE her. My goal was to make it to the Medical tent and be close to it if things went further south for me. As I got there I was met by two guys, Jeff and Kyle, a couple of nice guys, probably med students, who started peppering me with questions. I thought I was passing their test, but they decided to get me in the tent and get some blankets on me. A doctor approached and peppered me with more questions, one of which was “what’s your bib number?” Hell, I couldn’t remember it. I don’t think I ever really committed it to memory. It had an 11 and some 6’s and 7’s. “Okay, let’s go sit down.”
They sat me on the cot in what I could tell was a pretty empty medical tent and made me lay down, and that’s when all hell broke loose. My calves seized up and I began screaming. Loudly. Then they had a great idea to shove a foam roller under my legs and have two massage therapists grab my calves like they were squishing Play-doh between their fingers. That prompted more screaming now fortified with some very strong expletives. They were fighting me and I was fighting back. I finally convinced them that I needed to stand up, which thankfully for them they allowed, because had they not I would have summoned all strength that I had to murder each and every one of them.
Guess what? The cramps went away as soon as I was on my feet for a few seconds. I apologized, they understood and we tried a different approach. I was now shivering and blankets were piled on me. After a little walking, I sat in a chair and they brought this thing over called a “bear hugger,” which was a warming blanket that was heated to 43 degrees Celcius. They offered warm chicken broth and Gatorade and I did my best to get that in me. It was now pretty clear, I was dehydrated and paying for it. But at least I was now warm and toasty.
In retrospect, an IV probably would have done me wonders but I was reluctant to ask for one. I had gotten them post-race before years ago with no issues, but one time at the Rockford Marathon I requested one and the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance taking a trip to the hospital. I did not want that to happen, so I kept my mouth shut. Also, getting an IV would have required me to lay down again and there was no way in HELL I was going to do that.
After warming up and doing some more walking around, they allowed me to leave. Actually, I think it was more along the lines of they no longer needed to waste their time with me. I asked where the Red Gear Check tent was and they offered to get me a golf cart to take me there. Really? After I called each and every one of you an MFer, you are going to cart me there? Sweet! So I hopped in “GOLF CART 1” as the lady driver broadcast herself into her portable radio, informing maybe the other two people listening that she was giving me a lift. The ride was to the Red Gear Check tent was interesting. Instead of putting me in a wheelchair and pushing me there in a couple of minutes, we instead drove what seemed like 90 MPH down the sidewalk along Lake Shore Drive for several minutes, while Helen Wheels kept blowing a whistle to get people to get out of her way. I was crouched over trying not to get tossed out of the cart while still clutching the three blankets around me to keep me warm. We passed the backside of the Red Gear Check tent at what seemed full speed and I really wished that I had just walked there instead, and then we pulled into an open gate while other workers looked at us like this was quite unusual. She drove me as close to the Red Gear Check tent as she could without hitting other marathon finishers walking past. I could read their faces – “How the hell did this guy get carted to the Red Gear Check tent?! Must be a celebrity or VIP or something.” Hardly, just some guy who just had experienced the strangest 60-minutes post-marathon of his life. Then Helen Wheels barked into her microphone “GOLF CART ONE RETURNING TO THE MEDICAL TENT,” and that was the last I saw of her.
But wait, there’s more.
So I get my checked bag from the Red Gear Check tent and was so glad that I had checked a hoodie and some pants. The warmth felt great after a 90 MPH ride in a golf cart with Helen Wheels on a now 48-degree day.
Then it hit me, I had to walk back to the hotel. Not sure that it was even a full mile, but at the pace I was shuffling at it was going to take me a while. Where the heck was Helen Wheels when I needed her? I spotted some port-o-potties and peed for the first time since 7:15am, then I shuffled over and saw the Runner Reunite area, and since the big inflatable labeled G-H was nearby I made my way close enough to see if I could see Ben or Kari standing there. That was never in the meet-up plan, so I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t see them. Exiting Jackson Street back onto Michigan Avenue was miserable. Tons of people all trying to squeeze out right there and now I was getting a little too warm. Thankfully I made it to Michigan Avenue, turned north and that’s when I saw my tall son towering over the rest of the pedestrians. He looked relieved to find me. As we shuffled down Adams Street I apologized for my slow tempo, and I could tell things weren’t right. I was getting nauseated. When we got to Dearborn Street I spied a large planter next to the road and basically barfed up all of the liquid that I had just put in me in the Medical tent. I instantly felt better.
Kari was walking to meet us and was briefed and we went back to the hotel where I showered up, put on some clean, warm and comfortable clothes, and then started walking to the car. On the way, we offered a homeless person one of the blankets I had been given in the Medical tent, and it was gratefully accepted. As we headed out of downtown Chicago I caught a glimpse of some runners still on the course running in Chinatown at Mile 21.
After some restless attempt at sleeping in the car on the way home, upon getting home I walked inside and said hello to my daughters Ashley and Rebecca and laid down on the bed and slept. After eating some soup Kari picked up for me and some salty potato chips and sugary drinks I started coming around.
And my friends wonder why I declare after every marathon that I will never do another one.