Running Stories: I Have Discovered Trail Running

It’s winter here in Illinois, and although mostly mild this go around, we’ve had a little bit of snow added to our area and it’s just enough to cover the trail and make it icy after people start packing it down. This forces me off of my usual running route and onto the local side roads where there is better running traction and little traffic, but not as much scenery.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I have the option to still run outside when the ice-covered trails make them difficult to run on. I have my favorite route too, it’s hilly and has enough variety that it’s a much better option than running inside on the treadmill. But after a few runs on this route, I started thinking about branching out from it and try some off-the-beaten-path trails. I am still signed up to do a “last runner standing” style trail ultramarathon and getting some practice and familiarity with running on trails would be a good idea for me.

One of these trails is located in the Van Horne Woods portion of the Hickory Creek Preserve located off of Route 30 in Frankfort, IL. The path starts just as you enter the preserve. There used to be a sign there where the unpaved portion of the trail began that said it was for use by the “Environmental Learning Center ONLY,” but that sign is now gone, and when I Googled it it said that it was permanently closed. A Facebook page for the site says it was closed in 2017. Seeing that the trail is still pretty heavily used, on Wednesday I decided to explore the icy path for the first time.

Trail running, where have you been all my life?! I loved it! Although the trail was a mix of snow, ice, and a few clear portions, my trail running shoes handled them fairly easily. I slowed down where it was necessary, but otherwise it was runnable. There is a fairly steep ravine that had some great views and lots of twisty paths through the wooded area.

On Thursday, I decided to do it again, this time running it in reverse. Another awesome run, but there was a lot of rough running going on. I still had pretty good traction, but it wasn’t the best. Occasionally the tread of my shoes would nick my ankles and that is no fun. On Friday I stopped at the local hardware store and picked up some 1/2 inch sheet metal screws and screwed them into the bottom of my shoe. This is an old trick used by runners, but one I have never tried.

Saturday morning I woke up to a new coating of about an inch of snow and I was super excited to get out there and run through the woods again. The traction I now had with my modified shoes was unbelievable. I ran like there wasn’t any packed down icy snow at all. It was a game-changer. Even my pace picked up for the run from the previous days. This time I decided to explore some more of the off-trail segments and found myself following a set of fat bike tire tracks in the freshly fallen snow. I followed those tracks for almost three miles until I ran into those two bikers on the trail. I realized that these were the same two guys that always post pictures of their rides on the local biking Facebook page that I belong to. I got to get a fat bike someday. It looks like fun.

I ran until I realized that eight miles had passed and that I had three more to get to home, and without any water or gels to fuel me along, I decided to save some exploring for Sunday. I came home and told my wife that this was one of the best runs I have ever had.

A little bit of a warm-up occurred on Saturday afternoon, melting what had fallen that morning. But I woke up again to light snow on Sunday and decided that this was going to be another amazing run. This time, however, I drove to the forest preserve so not to waste energy running three miles to get there and have to save enough energy for the three miles to run back home. I’m glad I did, this run was an awesome repeat of Saturday, only more so! I explored further east along Hickory Creek until I got turned around and lost my bearings. I found the creek and knew what side I was supposed to be on, but I truly believed that I had crossed it somehow. It wasn’t until later when I reviewed the gps map that I realized how turned around I was. I ended up backtracking until I saw some familiar things that I thankfully took the time to study for just this reason. I had also drawn some arrows in the snow to make sure I knew where I should turn at a few of the adjoining trail spots.

I was getting a little tired and a little worried that I was overdoing it, so I decided to head back and save some more of the unexplored areas for another time.

In all, I ran 53.5 miles this week, which is very high for me, and all because this little off-the-beaten-path rekindled a passion for running that I hadn’t realized was missing. I certainly felt like a kid again. I will definitely be running more natural surface trails in the future.

Running Stories: Throwing Down The Gauntlet

As I approached the trail I was about to turn onto from the sidewalk I was running on, I could see a runner off to the right about 100-yards away, heading in the same direction that I was planning to run. As I hopped on the trail I kept my pace the same as it had been for the previous three miles and didn’t think much about the guy behind me. He ran behind me for about five minutes and then I started to hear footsteps. I was about to be overtaken. He was about to throw down the gauntlet.

In Medieval days, a gauntlet was a type of armored glove used to protect the hand, but if thrown down it was meant as a physical challenge to your opponent. I had a pretty good feeling that he was challenging me, as I have done this move before. Many times before. Too many times before. Enough times that I gave it that term – throwing down the gauntlet.

You can throw down the gauntlet in a race, but everybody is challenging each other throughout the race. You might have someone kick hard near the end and you either respond or don’t. But out on the trail during a simple training run, throwing down the gauntlet is a move to see what the other guy is made of.

Since he took his time coming up from behind and then sped past me fairly quickly, I figured he was making a tactical mistake. I know that mistake well. You run hard to catch the guy ahead of you and then struggle to keep up the increased pace once you pass him. I have often thrown down the gauntlet only to regret having to run much harder than I am capable of after the pass. You learn not to throw down the gauntlet if it means that you will run out of gas by doing so.

I picked up my pace to match his from about 15 yards behind him. It was a pace I could handle. I made some noise just to let him know I was still there. A quick glance over his shoulder told me all I needed to know. He was trying to outrun me and now realized that I had responded to his challenge.

As I ran behind him for about a mile I had no plans to throw down the gauntlet myself, I was already pushing it pretty hard just to keep up with him, plus my route was about to take me on a different direction and I had about four more miles to run. As I made a left turn onto the trail that heads back home and he continued straight, I think he now knows that throwing down the gauntlet might get you the challenge that you weren’t expecting. I know this because I have learned that lesson myself many times before.

Running Stories: Reaping the Rewards

This year was going to be a special year of racing for me. In addition to the local road running races and sprint triathlons that I would normally sign up for, I was also set to return to Kentucky for Ironman Louisville with my Gunner teammates/friends, and also take my first stab at doing an ultramarathon in Wisconsin at the Big Hill Bonk in Beloit. But alas, it was not meant to be.

But that doesn’t mean I sat around and did nothing. Even though the races were taken away from me I would never have not ran or biked, or even done the occasional swim just to do it. Running has always been the thing I have done, to the point that it’s just life for me. So regardless of whether there’s a race to run or an event to do, I’m still going to do it. And even with the pandemic going on, I still went out there and put in the running and biking efforts.

Since there was no goal race to shoot for, I decided to just have fun doing my thing while maintaining my running and biking fitness. Mostly I would alternate run and bike days, with Monday being an off-day to recover. There would be low-key group rides on the weekends that usually end up being solo rides anyway. And my weekly midday runs were always there for me after getting off work. And the pool was always waiting for me post run to cool down and put in a few laps of technique focused swimming.

Even though I didn’t have any distance goals or time goals, I focused on putting in miles without going too hard. There were plenty of friends doing “virtual” races, and I gave doing that kind of thing a brief consideration, but then opted against it. Instead I used the year as kind of a recovery year, not burning out, but “keeping it real” as my neighbor likes to say. And as December rolled around I realized that I had just surpassed 12oo running miles, which was a nice accomplishment. Getting over 1000 miles in a year is a pretty good achievement for any runner.

But as the temps dropped and I was seeing my pace come down for my typical running routes, I was interested in seeing just how racing fit I was.

First up was a sub-6 minute mile challenge that I was able to get under with a 5:44 minute mile. That was surprising to me, as I struggled through the summer to be under 6:30.

Last weekend, I decided to run a half-marathon on my own. I usually shoot to be under an hour and forty minutes when racing a half, so I set that as a goal. The hills on my route though were humbling, and I came in at 1:43 and change. Even so, I think that is pretty respectable, seeing that my run lacked the race environment that pushes me to an uncomfortable and challenging pace – fellow competitors, adrenaline, and the desire to push harder when challenged were all absent. I will take that do-it-myself 1:43 half-marathon and be proud of it.

Today I ran my normal 8-mile running route, which is also hilly, but the day seemed pretty good for another push for a good time. I turned in a time of 1:01:20, which is the fastest of the 8-milers that I have run this year. There’s a local 8-mile race that I usually do every November called “The Hot Cider Hustle” in which I can generally come in under 60 minutes. But I will take that 61 minute 20 second 8-mile run and be proud of it.

I had done some good work this year, even without having a goal to shoot for. I’m glad that the work I did produced a handful of good results for me. This year has taught me that reaping the rewards of good work doesn’t have to come from racing.

Time to dial it back a little now and get ready for 2021. Hopefully I can reap the rewards in more of a fashion I am used to. But regardless as to whether we race in 2021 or not, I’m going to put in the work. It’s rewarding.

Running Stories: The Look

On Thanksgiving Day I had very little desire to go for a run.  It was drab and cold outside.  I had been outside early in the morning with my dog and could feel the dampness chilling me and knew that on a day in which people love to get together and race Turkey Trots, I would probably opt out.  Seeing that Covid-19 was killing off most of the official Turkey Trots, the decision to opt out would be an easy one.

But as the morning progressed guilt got the better of me, and I decided that if others were out there I should be too.  Plus sitting inside watching football games that I had zero interest in probably wouldn’t make me feel any better about myself.  And I planned to feast on the fabulous meal my wife would be presenting later in the afternoon.  I needed to run to make me feel better.

I chose to run eight miles, my typical distance which follows my normal looped running route.  I can change my route up – shorten it, lengthen it, run it clockwise one day, counter-clockwise the next.  But I generally run my loop, and adding a little quarter-mile extension, it makes it an even eight miles.

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My 8-mile looped route. I know it like the back of my hand.

As I got to the looped portion of the trail a mile from home I noticed that I wasn’t alone out there on Thanksgiving Day.  Plenty of walkers and runners enjoying a moderately mild, fall day.  Families walking together, a few running together and most just doing what comes natural on Thanksgiving Day – getting together outside and being thankful for that opportunity.  About a mile and a half into my run I got the first of handful of greetings that I call “The Look.”

The look can be different things with different meanings, but for runners it generally is an acknowledgement that the looker sees you as a serious runner.  I see it a lot at races, runners eyeing each other up, giving a nod as if to say “I validate you and recognize you as my competition.”  I also see it out on the local running trail as well.

Maybe it was the Boston Marathon jacket I was wearing, or maybe it was my pace.  I’m not sure, but the kid running toward me gave me the look and a greeting that seemed to say “Nice job, old guy.”  I can assume this because he wasn’t dressed like a hobby jogger, and he looked like a high school or college cross country runner.  I have to admit that it kind of made my day.

Another mile or two into it and I came upon another runner who looked very fast.  This time it was me that gave the look of approval.  He was lean, focused and running pretty fast.  He didn’t even really make eye contact with me that I could tell.  I gave him a quick thumbs up and “nice job” and we were soon running away from each other as fast as we had been running toward each other.  I don’t think he even realized that I gave him the look.

As I kept moving toward mile six, I saw a couple up ahead walking toward me.  This time the look came from a tall, jeans wearing guy who was also wearing running shoes.  He seemed to take me in and give me the look, one that lingered, like he was acknowledging the Boston celebration jacket and knew what it took to earn that jacket.  I gave him the look as well – he looked like a guy who was a longtime runner, with a pedigree to boot.  He reminded me of the guys who used to run in the early 70’s – Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, et. al.  He had that look of a tall and thin runner.  As I ran away from them I wondered what kind of running he may have done over the years.

As I was about to finish my loop and take the trail back home, who did I see coming at me but the kid who I thought hadn’t even noticed me 2.5 miles earlier.  This time he and I were chuckling at the fact that we were seeing each other again.  I now wondered if he had given me the look, seeing that he recognized me the second time around.

Two days later I went for another run.  I didn’t give anyone the look, nor did I receive any.  I did have someone say hello to me and call me by my name.  I have no idea who it was, as he was cycling and bundled up from head to toe.  Getting recognized by another runner or cyclist is almost as good as getting the look.

So the next time you are at a race, or just out running, keep an eye out for the look.  Another runner respects you.  You deserve it.

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.