Tunnel Hill 50 Mile Run Race Report

Tunnel Hill 50 Mile Run Race Report

When:  November 13, 2021

Where:  Vienna, Illinois – Tunnel Hill State Trail

Results:  50.5 Miles, 11 hours 32 minutes 30 Seconds

Results Link:  My Results on Athlinks

I am truly humbled.

My last blog post was all about me asking myself if I was ready to run 100 miles. It turns out that I wasn’t. I found out that I definitely wasn’t prepared physically, and maybe I wasn’t quite prepared mentally as well. All 100-mile runs will challenge you in both ways, but I found out that I wasn’t quite up to the task. I was hoping that what training I had done would be enough, but there’s no substitute for running long miles. Running 100 miles demands respect, and I didn’t give it its due. I learned a valuable lesson. I was able to salvage something out of the race, and I am very proud of that. Here are the details.

Tunnel Hill 100 & 50 Mile Runs have been around since 2014, and the races have earned quite a reputation. The course is a world record course, and many runners have been setting personal bests there as well.

My ultra-running local friend Jodi has done the race before and provided the inspiration for me to give this race a try. A few other local friends also joined in on the challenge and came down to Vienna, Illinois to give it a go. I figured why not join in on the fun.

The pile of junk I packed for this dumb idea. Didn’t need half of it.

My wife Kari and I drove down on Friday and pulled into Vienna just in time for the start of packet pick-up. We didn’t waste much time there as the sun was starting to set and we wanted to take a drive to where the aid stations would be so that she could be familiar with the route.

Sun setting on the drive to Karnak, Illinois

After finding the southern aid station in Karnak, Illinois we headed back to eat the complimentary spaghetti dinner with the others.

Packet pickup completed!

After dinner, Kari and I drove to the northern aid station located near the Tunnel Hill tunnel and then headed to the hotel to check-in. It wasn’t long until my son Ben and his fiance Emily arrived, and we made some last-minute plans. I knew that Ben was going to pace me the last 25 miles of the race, but Emily also offered to run with me from Mile 50 to Mile 61 on the third leg, which I was very grateful for. Turns out neither would run at all!

Ben, Emily and Kari planning out their strategy to keep me alive.

After a peaceful sleep, we caravaned to Vienna to await the start. I was in a pretty good mood, with very little of the normal race day anxiety. I found the others and shared best wishes and then took a spot with the rest of the runners. The National Anthem was sung, the horn sounded, and we were off.

Trying to not freeze at the start.

LEG 1 – Vienna south to Karnak and the Southern Turnaround

After a loop around the parking lot, we made a right turn onto the Tunnel Hill State Trail for the first leg. One guy standing along the road shouted “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!” which surprisingly gave me a chuckle. I was in a good mood. I was running with Jodi until my watch beeped and told me to walk. We were barely on the trail at this point! I felt a little silly slowing to a walk four minutes into a race, but I was dedicated to my pacing plan. It wasn’t long and others started to walk as well. Jodi was now long gone. And I would later find out all my other friends would leave me in the dust as well!

The trail was pretty crowded at this point and trying to find space on the trail was hard, as very few of us were running at the same pace. But we made the best of it and kept moving forward.

Prior to getting to Karnak, I found that I was sweaty, which surprised me somewhat. I stopped at the Heron Pond aid station and took off my windbreaker. Arriving in Karnak, I saw my crew and said I was crabby. We swapped my partially empty hydration vest for one they prepped for me and was fully loaded and I made way over to the food tables. I was expecting just a bunch of cookies and such, but there was bacon! And French toast pieces! I grabbed some bacon and was glad to have something that wasn’t sugary. The two pieces of French toast were some of the best French toast I have ever had. I walked and ate and then started running the remaining couple of miles to the turnaround.

Coming into the first aid station in Karnak.
My awesome crew! They did amazing for a first time crew!

The trip heading to the southern turnaround seemingly took forever. And it was into the wind, which made me regret taking the windbreaker off. But I think that was a little bit of a blessing, as it cooled me down and dried me off a little. As I was heading there I first saw my friend Leah, then I saw Jodi, then Jennifer, and finally Jim all coming back north! They were all kicking my butt! I was a little surprised to be bringing up the rear, as I was on my sub-20 hour pace and pretty consistent with it. It would turn out that they are much more awesome at this than my inexperienced ass.

LEG 2 – The Southern Turnaround back to Vienna

I hit the turnaround and was back to Karnak to talk with my crew again and I made the decision to swap hats, as my original ones were soaked with sweat. I was dragging on this part. I seemed to lack energy and was also a little off somehow. I found that when I was walking it seemed a little unbalanced. Running seemed okay, but I just wasn’t feeling right.

There were lots to keep my mind occupied. I was swapping places with groups of others as we took turns running and walking. There were three college-age guys running together who I nicknamed the “Bros” and they were fun to follow. They were enjoying themselves.

I finally got to Vienna and was relieved. 26+ miles done.  First up was a change of clothes. Kari expected that I would want to change clothes and I was happy to get out of the sweaty stuff. I sat down in a chair and was given a ham and cheese sandwich and a bottle of Lipton Brisk Lemon Tea by my family. It was nice to sit, eat and soak up a little sun after running a little more than 26 miles. The rest didn’t last long. Ben pulled me up out of the chair, we swapped a depleted hydration vest for a full one, and I started out on the northern leg of the route.

LEG 3 – Vienna north to Tunnel Hill and the Northern Turnaround

The funk I was in during the second leg seemed to wane now that I had a sandwich and some food in me. But I think the main reason I perked up was that I was now downing gels and hydration that had caffeine in them. It was the boost that I was needing. Mentally I was in a much better place, but physically my thighs/quads were getting very sore. After every walk break, I would gingerly start my jogging routine and try not to think about the soreness. After a while, I decided that the four-minute run portion of my pacing plan was not doing me any favors any longer. I pushed some buttons on my watch and lowered the run portion to two minutes. Two minutes running and two minutes walking was now the pace plan. There were a lot of other runners walking more as well, and for longer periods of time.

The northern part of the course was beautiful. The southern portion was mostly treelined with beautiful fall colors, but the northern section had that as well as awesome rock formations and numerous bridges spanning ravines and small creeks. Plus it had an awesome tunnel. The top of the concrete tunnel entrance was stamped “1929” and it really was a relic from another time. As you approached you could clearly see the exit on the other side, and the length of the tunnel is about 200 yards or so. But once inside it got dark, even if you could see the exit. It felt really weird, the exit was clearly visible, but you didn’t really know what your feet were stepping on. Ben had heard someone describe it as “trippy” and I think that is spot on. It was a strange sensation.

Ben greeting me as I came into Tunnel Hill and looking for a chair to sit on.

Not long on the other side was the Tunnel Hill aid station and Kari, Ben, and Emily were there waiting for me. I ducked into a toilet and then walked over to a chair and sat down. I told them I was feeling good from the waist up, but the waist down was in bad shape. Kari offered me some ibuprofen and I quickly turned it down. Then she offered some Tylenol and I turned that down too. I wasn’t sure how my stomach would feel if I took some, and it’s pretty well-known that taking ibuprofen is not the best idea for distance runners.

After leaving the aid station I continued north toward the northern turnaround, and I was giving taking some Tylenol some serious thought. By this point, I had adjusted my run time from two minutes down to one, and the quad soreness was not getting better. I was now walking more than I was running. I had some Tylenol with me, so I decided to take some.

LEG 4 – The Northern Turnaround back to Vienna

The turnaround seemed like it would never come. When I finally got there it was such a relief. As the trip south now began, I noticed something interesting. This trip north was uphill, but the trip back was uphill too! Uphill both ways!

Within 20-minutes after taking the Tylenol I could feel my legs getting better. By the time I was back at the Tunnel Hill aid station I was a new man. My attitude was great, my quads felt much better, and I was kicking myself for not taking some pain pills earlier.

Kari could tell I was much better off. The food table had just put down some freshly made grilled ham & cheese sandwiches. I took one of the triangle cut portions and it literally became the greatest grilled ham & cheese sandwich I had ever eaten. I went back and grabbed another and the aid station lady was laughing that I was looking for seconds.

BEST DAMN GRILLED HAM & CHEESE SANDWICH EVER!

Another hydration vest switch, and I grabbed a headlamp, and off I went back south toward Vienna. The trip through the tunnel was much better now that I could see the ground. There wasn’t any weird sensation going through it. The ceiling of the tunnel was still soot-covered from the long-ago passing trains, but now there was some modern spray-painted graffiti added for no good reason.

I held off turning the headlamp on permanently until the last bit of fading sunlight was gone. With the artificial light making the trail visible, I made my way along the trail. There seemed to be fewer and fewer people heading north and most were now heading the same direction that I was. Occasionally I would pass a runner without a headlamp and wonder how they could see at all. It was pitch black out, even with a half-moon shining in the dark sky above.

As I pressed on I decided that maybe I could run a little more, so I bumped it up to a 2-minute run. That worked for a little while, but soon I found myself tiring. Knowing that if I was to continue on I might want to be more conservative with my energy, and I went back to the 1-minute run / 2-minute walk.

Somewhere in this stretch, I did some soul searching. I rationalized everything, taking into account how I have felt throughout the day and how I was feeling now. I had told Kari and others numerous times before the race that they should be prepared for me to drop at the halfway point. This is an option at the Tunnel Hill Runs. Those that had signed up for the 100-mile race could drop down to the 50-Mile race and become an official 50-Mile finisher if they choose to. This was looked at by some as a trap, somewhat of an enticement, or a consolation prize to those running the one hundred to drop instead of pressing on. I knew this. I also knew that after enduring the miles I had gone through already, I clearly would be struggling to continue on for another 50. I would be miserable. At one point I said I’m going to keep going. A minute later I was talking myself out of it. It was a difficult decision, but I finally said to myself that I need to attempt this another time, a time at which I’m better prepared, both physically and mentally.

The Shelby Road aid station is only about 3 miles out from Vienna, and a little puzzling as to why it’s so close to the start/finish. I arrived and took a look at the food table and decided that nothing appealed much to me. I took a small piece of banana, squeezed it into my mouth, and pushed toward the finish line.

The Finish

As the lights of the Vienna aid station came into view I experienced relief for the first time. I turned off my headlamp, jogged across the timing mat, and hit stop on my watch. I was done. Fifty miles. The longest I had ever run in my life in one day.

Finishing 50 miles of running.

Ben was the first to greet me and I’m sure that he could have predicted what I was about to say. “I’m done.” He offered some positive words and did what all good crew will do, he encouraged me to continue on. But I had made up my mind. Then a race official did the same. “Walk a little. Go get some food. Think it over.” I walked over to Kari and Emily and sat in a chair and was getting a little upset having to deal with those telling me to go on when I made it pretty clear that I didn’t want to. It’s their job to do that, to tell you not to quit. But I was starting to interpret their positive encouragement as “don’t be a quitter.” It was getting to me. At some point they conceded and it was over.

Kari encouraged me to go into the warming tent and have some soup. Inside I found Jennifer, who had just finished her 50 Miles, and Tony, a friend from the local running/riding group who was there helping crew others, and he offered some very kind words. I went from hearing what I was wrongly interpreting that I was quitting on myself to knowing that I just did something pretty spectacular.

I left the tent and Ben walked me over to the timing tent. Another female runner had just dropped from her 100-mile attempt to the 50, which made me feel better. I wasn’t alone. I’m not sure what her reasons were, but I’m guessing it wasn’t an easy decision for her, just like it wasn’t for me. The volunteer said, “Great job, here’s your belt buckle.” It was official, Bib #536 was now a 50-Mile finisher.

Ben and I walked back to join Kari and Emily and we started packing up. I wrapped a blanket around me and we started to head to the car. Except now my body was shutting down on me. All I could do as I was shivering was to stagger very slowly back toward the car. Each step was almost excruciatingly painful. I started to wonder what if this would have happened to me later on during the next leg. What if it had happened miles away from the aid station? As we got to the car and Ben had to help me get my legs into the car, I realized that I had made a smart move to drop.

I am very proud of what I accomplished. Finishing 50 miles is pretty awesome in its own right. The option to stop at the 50-mile mark was actually a blessing for me. In retrospect, I just wasn’t prepared to go 100-miles. I lacked the time on my feet that running that distance demands. Also, I think the main reason I stopped at 50 instead of pressing on was that I was just tired of running and the prospect of another 50 wasn’t appealing to me at all at the moment.  I’ll have to overcome that feeling next time, I’m sure.

I will revisit this race again in the future when I’m better prepared and eager to make it happen. Thanks, Tunnel Hill!

Thanks 

My wife Kari continues to wow me with her love for me and the support she gives me when I tackle these challenges. I couldn’t do it without her.

Thanks to Ben and Emily for giving up their weekend to crew me and help out mom. Although I felt like I cheated you out of pacing me through the second half of the run, I sense that you guys were okay with it. (lol)

To my local friends:

– Jodi finished her 5th 100-mile race, which is just absolutely amazing. Thanks for providing the inspiration and sharing your ultrarunning knowledge.

– Jim, you are impressive as always. You have the wisdom and experiences that I seek.

– Jennifer, congrats on your first 50-mile finish. You provided enough enthusiasm for all of us.

– Theresa, way to go on that 50-mile finish!

– Leah, WOW! Way to kill it! Not sure how you held that pace through 100 miles, but WELL DONE!

– Calvin, your love for running and your unselfishness is amazing. Keep it up!

– Tony, thanks for the kind words in the tent, letting me know that even though the original goal wasn’t achieved, the finish I got is pretty damn good, too.

– Dan, I look forward to learning more from you.  Thanks for spectating and the encouragement!

Best consolation award ever.

I Guess I’m Ready

Am I Ready?

I’m attempting to run my first 100-mile ultra marathon on Saturday (and Sunday, too!) and in the past few days, I have been asked if I was ready several times. I don’t think that I have given the same answer each time it was asked. I really don’t know if I’m ready. Maybe. I guess so. Nope. Yup. We’ll see – have been the typical responses based on how I felt that day.  

Hey Chris, are you ready?

Running one hundred miles is something I have never done before. I honestly have no idea how it’s going to go for me. I have set goals of just being able to finish, to finish under 24-hours and also 20-hours, and also to not die while doing it, as dying would upset my wife. I have recruited my wife to be my crew chief, and if I were to croak on top of making her suffer through this dumb idea I don’t think it would go over well.  

But am I really ready? To be honest, I never directly followed a 100-mile ultra training plan in preparation for this race. The Covid pandemic tossed around a couple of races that I had planned to do in 2020 and they got moved to 2021. The Big Hill Bonk race ended up being in August instead of April, and Ironman Louisville, originally scheduled for October 2020, became Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021. That meant that I was planning to run what would become my first ultra-distance event and Ironman in late summer/early fall of 2021. At that point, I figured “why not take advantage of the training I was doing and attempt my first 100-miler?” So I signed up for Tunnel Hill 100, a mid-November race in which a handful of local friends were also running. They are bad influences.  

My goal was to run 40-50 miles at the Big Hill Bonk, but I “bonked” at 33 miles. I hadn’t followed a specific ultra-running plan for that race either. I just used what run training I was doing while training for my Ironman. That got me over 50K and I officially became an ultra runner, but it also taught me that running 33 miles was hard and therefore, 100-miles might be super-duper hard.  

I quickly put that race behind me and focused on following my training plan for my Ironman. Ironman Chattanooga went off without a hitch and I notched the 2nd-quickest time of the five I have completed. That left me about 6-weeks to do just long, slow running. And guess what? I found that I liked long, slow running.

I’ve always been about speed. I’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon three times, and that required me to push myself pretty hard. But training for an ultra required something else – a slow pace, one that you can maintain for a day. Or at least a pace at which medical aid won’t likely be required when finished. Been there, done that. I found that when I slowed down, I actually enjoyed running. The miles went by quickly enough, and before I knew it I was four hours into a training run and still felt pretty good.  

I had found an online 100-mile ultra training plan on a website called Relentless Forward Commotion, which is an awesome ultra-running resource. I loosely based what little time I had left to train on what that plan had called for, but I didn’t follow it exactly. The plan had called for a 50K (which I did!) and a 50-mile run (which I didn’t do!) leading up to the race. But I had done an Ironman, so that has to count for something, right? I say it does.

After Ironman Chattanooga, which included 26.2 miles of some of the toughest hills I have ever run (okay, walked) for a marathon, I put together long runs of 21, 26, 16, 21, 22, and 16, leaving me with some time to taper down until race day. So when you take into account that I did run a 50K, an Ironman, and six weeks of some of the highest weekly mile totals that I have ever done, I think that I did do an adequate job of training for running 100 miles without actually directly training for running 100 miles. We shall see.

On Monday, I ran five miles and did the same on Tuesday. After that, I said that’s it. I’m as ready as I can be at this point. Another three or four-mile run isn’t going to make me any more prepared, and my legs and feet can use the rest as I focus on packing the junk that I will need for this dumb idea.  

Am I ready? I’m definitely ready to get this over with. The stress is killing me.

The Run/Walk Ratio Experiment

Training for an ultra is a complicated thing, not that training for other race distances isn’t, but training to run 100 miles is a whole new ball of wax for me. And to complicate it more I’m not following any specific plan to accomplish running 100 miles, as I’m relying on my 30-weeks of Ironman training to do the brunt of the work for me, leaving me only seven weeks to devote to some run only specific training. I still have some work to do. 

I was listening to a podcast called “The Tunnel Hill Chronicles,” in which this younger guy named Lorin is documenting his training for the race, and he mentioned that he would rather be a little undertrained for an ultra-marathon than be overtrained. I agree, so I got that going for me – which is nice. 

Lately, I have been experimenting with pace. To run 100 miles in under 20 hours is pretty simple – average 12 minutes per mile, or 5 mph, and you are golden. And running the Big Hill Bonk taught me that running 4.166 miles every hour will net you a 24-hour 100 miler. Not many spend the entirety of the distance actually running. Most follow some sort of run and walk ratio, either by design or by having it forced upon them. The majority of ultra marathons seem to take place in hilly or mountainous areas, and the golden rule is to run the flats and the downhills and walk the uphills. At Tunnel Hill, despite what the name might be suggesting, there aren’t any hills or mountains. From what I understand, the tunnel actually goes through the “hill.” I’ve read that there are a few gradual inclines on the old railroad bed turned trail, but they aren’t really hills. 

So if there are no hills you have to design some sort of plan to incorporate some walking into your strategy or you will likely find walking as your only strategy.

I have searched for common run/walk ratios for ultras and found that they can vary widely. Some recommend a 15-minute run with a 3-minute walk. That seems on the high side to me. That gives you 3.33 run/walk blocks in an hour, and my OCD would prefer that I make them divide out nicely over 60-minutes. I have decided that breaking it up into a 6-minute run/walk segment might be perfect, which would give me 10 total blocks per hour. So far I have tried the following:

5 minutes : 1 minute Ratio – Five minutes of running followed by one minute of walking was the obvious first choice. I have done that ratio several times and I found that five minutes of running was a little long, and the one-minute recovery walk went by quickly. 

5 minutes : 1 minute, 15 seconds Ratio – I tried to add some additional time to the walk, but I didn’t like that it screwed up the 6-minute block.

4 minutes, 45 seconds : 1 minute, 15 seconds Ratio – I realized that I didn’t have to focus on adding time to the walk and took off 15-seconds from the run. This 4:45 run / 1:15 walk ratio worked pretty well. However, it got me to the 5-mile split around 53-minutes, which could be used to walk some more until the hour is up, or I could come to my senses and see that I should probably slow my pace a little.

4.5 minutes : 1.5 minutes Ratio – This ratio wasn’t much different than the 4.75:1.25, but I am starting to think that a little more walk time would be beneficial to for me. 

4 minutes, 15 seconds : 1 minute, 45 seconds Ratio – Bingo!  Running 4:15 and then walking for 1:45 was a great combo by not having too much run time and enough walk time to recover a little and give me some time to drink some water and take on nutrition.  This was working great, but I was a little concerned about not walking enough.

4 minutes : 2 minutes Ratio – Now I am onto something.  This seems to be the best combination for me.  The minutes are even splits and the 2-minutes of walking gives me a much needed break without wasting too much time walking.  I’m still covering just about the same distance as the 4-minute 15-second ratio, so I’ll take the extra walk time break and use it in my favor.  This works out to be a pace somewhere around 11:15 minutes to 11:20 minutes average pace per mile, which will be optimal.   

So, that’s enough experimenting.  A four minute run followed by a two minute walk seems to be the best combo for me and will be what I use in the event.  Six minute intervals, 10 per hour – I just have to do 200 of these intervals and I’m golden.  I won’t be wasting energy keeping track of that in my mind.    

The overall goal for me is obviously to finish 100 miles before the 30-hour cutoff, but I think I might be able to shoot for a sub-20 hour finish based on how I have felt in training while doing that run/walk method.  This goal may be a little over-ambitious, but I think that I can hold the pace for at least half of the 100 miles.  It’s the unknown miles from 50 on that I have no idea what will happen.  I’m sure the journey to the finish line will tell me a lot about myself.  I’m looking forward to it.  

Big Hill Bonk 2021 – Wisconsin Backyard Ultra Race Report

When:  08/06/2021

Where:  Big Hill Park – Beloit, Wisconsin

Distance:  Endless 4.166 mile yards (loops) until there is only one runner left to complete a yard

Results:  DNF officially (only the last runner standing is a finisher, everyone else is a non-finisher and basically SOL), but here’s what I accomplished:  8 yards (loops) / 33.33 miles / 22nd furthest distance covered out of 35 runners 

Results Link:  Big Hill Bonk Official Results

BIG HILL BONK – WISCONSIN BACKYARD ULTRA – LAST RUNNER STANDING

Finally. After three postponements and nearly a year and a half after this event was to take place, the Big Hill Bonk actually happened!  And after 32+ years of running, I finally attempted and achieved my first ultramarathon.  

Last runner standing format ultramarathons have become very popular as of late.  I’m not sure when the first one was held, but it took a guy called “Lazarus Lake” to make it a very big deal.  Laz is responsible for the Barkley Marathons, and he decided to create an event called “Big’s Backyard Ultra,” named for his dog Big, and held it in his backyard.  Big’s is now the World Championship in this event, and qualifying for it means winning a similar race and getting the golden coin.  Good luck getting one.

When I first heard of it I found the format to be fascinating, and when the Big Hill Bonk was announced and it was somewhat local I made it my goal to be there and attempt my first ultra-distance run.  

Here’s the link to my previous blog post about committing to the race:  My First Ultramarathon?

TRAINING

Initially, I intended this race to be my “A” race – the focus for the year and not let anything else affect training for it and participating in it, but Covid-19 derailed those plans.  The race got postponed from April 2020 to October 2020 to April 2021 and then finally to August 6, 2021.  In between that span of time Ironman Louisville 2020 also got canceled and I was deferred to Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021.  Since I spend 30 weeks training for Ironman and it is such an investment in time and money, I made the decision to primarily focus on that race and apply that training to the Big Hill Bonk.  It resulted in me being somewhat ill-prepared running-wise to do this ultra, but it was the best that I could do under the circumstances.  I think my longest run in preparation was a couple 2-hour runs.

My goal for this race was pretty simple:  last at least to the 50K mark, which would be eight total yards.  As the race approached I was somewhat hoping to hit ten yards, but mainly I just wanted to be an official ultramarathoner.

RACE DAY/NIGHT

The race started at 5:30 pm, which is somewhat strange, but it worked out just fine.  I worried about a 5:30 pm start in April when the sun would set much sooner than it did in August.  I also worried about being able to stay awake through the night, but sleepiness wasn’t really an issue.  Thanks, caffeine.  

Kari committed to making sure that I wasn’t going to do this race without her being there to ensure I didn’t seriously injure myself or die or something.  So we drove up Friday afternoon and arrived about 3:30 pm.  I checked in and got my bib and t-shirt and then began unloading the car and setting up my campsite, for lack of a better description.  

I made my way through some serious tents already set up by those runners who were serious enough to get a spot as close as they could to the start/finish area.  I found the first open area I could and set up my little pop-up tent and laid out my junk.

My little pop-up tent worked just fine and I was glad I didn’t have to worry about a much bigger tent to deal with when I stopped running, as we had to clear out when we bonked out of the race.

I made some idle chitchat with a nearby runner and made myself eat some food and get some water in me.  Kari helped me get my hydration running vest filled with fluids.  At 5 pm we met with the race director Tyler and went over the rules.  We found out that there would be 35 runners, with three no-shows.  I can’t imagine had there been a full field of runners.  The tent area would have been super crowded, and running the loop would have needed some start placement strategy to make sure I was able to pace my run at the pace I was hoping to go.

Tyler admitted that he didn’t have a whistle to blow at 3, 2, and 1 minute before the start of the race, so he advised that he would just shout out how many minutes until the start as a warning to us all.  That worked just fine.

My home for Friday night/Saturday morning. All ready for the call to the start.

At “3 minutes!”  I took notice and got up and made sure I had what I need to run with.  

At “2 minutes!” I kissed Kari goodbye and made my way to the pavement where we had to assemble at the bottom of each hour.  

“1 minute!  10 seconds, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… GO!”  And away we went.

Off we go on Yard number 1! I’m in red, waving to Kari.

THE YARDS

It’s not so much a race as it is an endurance event.  Who can go the farthest is all that matters.  One 4.166 mile lap or loop in this event is called a “yard” I’m guessing because Laz’s race consists of loops through his and his dog Big’s backyard.  So being the first to come in every yard really means nothing other than you get to rest longer if that is a benefit to you.  I was somewhat under the impression that resting may not be in your benefit, but Kari said that most of the others were coming in and sitting down and putting their feet up.  

I planned to be conservative and finish each loop around 50 minutes.  That would give me time to use the toilet, refill my water bottle, eat something and do any equipment changes that may be necessary.  

I started out with my Nathan hydration vest filled with water and Gatorade.  I also opted to wear my Hoka Challenger trail shoes.  Both of these decisions would be changed by Yard 3.  

The course was a combination of pavement, grass, dirt, rock, and a very bouncy wooden bridge thrown in just for fun.  And speaking of fun, there were plenty of tree roots, fallen trees, weeds, stairs and big rocks to navigate around, through and over.  I figured that I ran about 2.5 miles and walked about 1.5 miles.  Everyone walked the hills, even the small ones, myself included.  The namesake Big Hill was a 10-minute walk for me.

YARD 1 – 49 minutes, 37 seconds / 4.166 miles / 5:30 pm Friday

Heading past the tent area on Yard 1. I didn’t know it at the time, but the eventual winner was next to me.

I had run three loops of the course back in March 2020 prior to Covid shutting everything down, and thankfully the course was still familiar to me.  There weren’t any surprises and the first yard went pretty much as I planned.  I spent some time monitoring my watch, checking the time when I would pass certain checkpoints so that I would know how I was doing each subsequent yard.

It was clear to me even before starting the yard that a fully loaded hydration vest was probably not in my best interest.  I was carrying far more than I needed.  Plus, it was making me hotter than I need to be.  There were a few others also wearing one, but for the most part, everyone else was just carrying a small, hand-held bottle.

After finishing this yard, I went straight to the portable toilet and then back with Kari to my tent to refuel and discuss how I felt.  I decided to just take on some gel and drink some Gatorade.  

YARD 2 – 49 minutes, 33 seconds / 8.33 miles / 6:30 pm Friday

Yard 2 was just a few seconds faster than the first and I felt really good about that.  I came in and committed to the peeing again, which I think was a good plan.  I tried to urinate after every yard just to make sure that I was staying on top of hydration.  Back at the tent, Kari handed me some pretzels and some more Gatorade and I took another hit of gel.  I also decided to take a salt capsule at this time, as I was sweating a lot.  I’m not sure the extra salt was needed because I was eating plenty of salty snacks and drinking Gatorade, but I was leaving nothing to chance.  

YARD 3 – 51 minutes, 05 seconds / 12.5 miles / 7:30 pm Friday

I decided to take my iPhone with me and take some really crappy selfies and photos as I ran on Yard 3 because I figured it was the last lap with available sunlight.  I was also now pretty familiar with the course so I wasn’t too worried about carrying the dumb phone around and snapping a few pictures.  Here’s some of what the course looked like:

The yards were starting to become pretty routine – Start with running on the parking lot asphalt and transitioning to grass, down a paved bike trail, head up a steep dirt path, run across the grass to the road, down a technical path and over a bunch of roots and fallen trees, down the stairs, across a path and then head through the foliage portion of the trail always watching for tree roots and low hanging branches, across the trampoline bridge, up the gravel/crushed rock Big Hill, onto the dirt path then onto the road, back to a gravel road that changed to dirt, then back to a grassy path that leads to the finish.  Into the toilet, back to the tent, down some gel, food, and Gatorade.  Repeat, repeat, repeat…

It was on this yard that I decided that I was done with the hydration vest and opted to just use a handheld Nathan 8 0unce water bottle from now on.  I drained the water bottle every loop.  8 ounces seemed to be about the right amount of water on this warm and humid evening.

YARD 4 – 49 minutes, 06 seconds / 16.67 miles / 8:30 pm Friday

I changed my shirt and visor and added a light to the bill of the visor.  The little lights that I bought over a year ago got a good recharging and one little light provided enough light to see sufficiently.  I also grabbed a Nathan hand-held flashlight that I carried with me strapped to my right hand and turned it on when I got to the technical stuff.  At the start of this yard, Kari was telling me to turn my light on, but I was surprised at how well I could see just using everyone else’s headlamps and lights.  But when we spread out, it was time to rely on my own lights.

I was glad to be done with the vest and felt refreshed after toweling off and getting a dry shirt.  Simple things like this can certainly lift your mood.

In the dark, the course was now almost unfamiliar in a way.  Oh sure, I knew the layout and such, but not being able to see specific landmarks that were visible in the daylight made for some new challenges.  One time through the course in the dark was enough to build confidence in knowing the turns and course again.

YARD 5 – 47 minutes, 20 seconds / 20.83 miles / 9:30 pm Friday

Kari had left the park to go check into the local hotel and grab some dinner, so I was on my own for this yard.  After getting back to the finish, I immediately walked over to the water cooler and filled up my bottle.  After another bathroom break it was off to my tent to replenish my fuel and drink some Gatorade.  In addition to taking a shot of GU Salted Caramel gels, I was snacking on salty potato chips, salty pretzels (Dot’s Pretzels are the best), fun-size Payday bars, and a turkey and swiss sandwich.  

I also decided that I had had enough with the trail shoes and switched out to my normal Hoka Clifton running shoes.  The bottom edge of the trail shoes would clip my ankle so often that I couldn’t take it anymore.  The Cliftons were more than sufficient for this multi-surface trail.

I found a little speed this lap somehow, turning in the quickest time of the eight yards I ran.

YARD 6 – 50 minutes, 45 seconds / 25 miles / 10:30 pm Friday

As I ran through this loop I knew I was about to get to marathon distance and thought how strange it was to feel pretty good at this point. Normally in a marathon, I am holding on for dear life at Mile 25 trying to set a marathon personal best or get that elusive Boston qualifier. But today that was not in my game plan. Slow and steady was the motto. I didn’t have to remind myself to take my time on the hills and just kept that forward momentum going.

However, I was beginning to get a pain in my upper left thigh that would bother me when I ran. I started to think that I could definitely get in two more loops, but started thinking that eight might be my max. Besides having a goal of reaching 50K (~31 miles), I also had a goal of not wiping myself out to the point where Kari would have to deal with a dehydrated, shivering and cramping mess when I was done.

As I got back to my tent, Kari had brought me some chicken broth that she had warmed up at the hotel and placed into a soup thermos thing she purchased for this dumb event. I drank as much as I could and chased it down with some Gatorade and headed back to the start area for Yard 7.

I feel about as good as I look.

YARD 7 – 52 minutes, 16 seconds / 29.17 miles / 11:30 pm Friday

As we started off this yard, I burped up some Gatorade/chicken broth mix and that acid reflux was not a good feeling.  It was just a little too much in me for the jogging I was doing, but it settled quickly enough.  The pain in my thigh was not happy however, and my overall sense of reaching my limit was becoming clear.  I figured I had this yard and one more in me.  At 52 minutes and 16 seconds, I didn’t really leave myself much time to get through my routine.  My appetite was fading and I decided to tell Kari to start packing up the tent and junk as I made my way back to the start for the yard that would put me over 50K and make me an ultramarathon finisher.

YARD 8 – 53 minutes, 12 seconds / 33.33 miles / 12:30 am Saturday

When Tyler the race director yelled go for Yard 8, I could barely get myself going.  I began walking and quickly everyone else was into a jog.  I willed myself to join them.  On the previous lap another runner was running through a rough spot and the lady from Canada reminded him that he may feel bad now but be much better later.  I put that in the back of my mind and kept moving forward.  I was determined to get through this lap in the allotted sixty-minutes.  

As the steps passed I became pretty confident that I would hit my goal of eight total yards, and as I got to the bottom of the Big Hill I glanced at my watch and saw that it read 31.85 miles.  There was no celebration, but just some relief.  I’d never run this far before.  I kept climbing the hill and caught up with Viktoria, the runner from Canada.  

Viktoria looked tired as well, and she quickly corrected herself when she made a turn at the top of the Big Hill instead of going straight.  She admitted that she had made a few wrong turns, but was able to get back on track again.  She started off in the wrong direction again when we made it back to the road, and I made sure that she went the right way.  As we ran through the fourth mile, I told her that I was pretty familiar with it from having run it before.  She asked if I was the one who wrote the blog about the pre-event course run and I said Yes!  She said that she chose to use trail shoes because of how I had described the course.  

Seeing that she was from Canada, I asked her if it was mandatory that she liked the band Rush.  She said she had never heard of them, which gave me a chuckle. So much for making small talk.  She did say that she wasn’t born in Canada, so that explains it a little better.  I advised her that I was done after this yard and she was surprised at that because I was running a pretty good pace with her.  I said I was just finishing strong to make sure I didn’t miss the cut-off, but I was indeed done.  I thought she would be done soon too, but boy was I wrong about that.  Viktoria made it through the night and the next day, completing Yard 25 and 125 total miles, finishing third overall.  So impressive.  It’s so hard to judge these runners and how good they can be.

As I finished I found Kari and asked her if everything was packed up and in the car.  She replied no!  Coach Kari didn’t believe me when I told her that I was done!  But I was in fact done.  I had enough.  We walked back to the tent and started picking up the tent and stuff, and I just let the warnings of 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute just go in one ear and out the other.  As I heard go, I wasn’t on the tarmac for the start, and officially out of the event.

Officially Bonked at Yard 8, 33.33 miles.

As I walked up to Tyler sitting at his scoring table, I advised him that I was tapping out and that I had a terrific time.  “You got your ultramarathon!” he said, and I was very glad to hear those words.  I went over and picked out a loser’s rock and threw it into my bag.

My keepsake of my first ultramarathon.
Couldn’t have done it without my love and Coach Wife, Kari

NOTES FOR NEXT TIME

I’m very pleased with how I did and I will definitely put this race on my calendar. The race director posted post-race on Facebook that he plans to have it again in April 2022. But as with any race or event, I will want to improve on this year’s total miles.  I made plenty of mental notes as I went around the park, so here are a few things that helped me and a few things that I can improve.

  • A hydration vest wasn’t necessary.  Fully loaded with water was enough to cover a large portion of the yards I ran.  I was much better off just using the hand-held water bottle and just refilling it after every yard.  
  • I think that the salty snacks were doing a good job providing enough salt for the amount of sweating that I was doing, but regardless, I was still taking a salt capsule after every even yard.
  • I brought one long-sleeve shirt, four regular shirts, and two sleeveless shirts and only used three of the regular shirts.  I should have changed the sweat-soaked shirts and visors more often than I did.
  • I planned on doing this thing solo, but that would have been dumb.  I’m so glad my wife Kari came along to monitor what was going on, knowing full well that I probably wouldn’t be making smart decisions later in the run.
  • Book a hotel ahead of the event next time.  
  • Having some extra shoes to change into would be beneficial.  Mine were very dirty and somewhat sweat soaked as well.
  • I had a plan of running each yard in about 50 minutes and I executed that very well.  I faded a little toward the end, but I don’t believe going faster or slower is a better option.  50 minutes gives you just enough time to refuel, rest, and prep for the next yard.

So there you have it, my first ultramarathon distance of 50K in the books! I can’t wait to give it another go.

The Extra Yard – There was a pro photographer at the event and captured these shots that I am glad to have found.

1st time up the Big Hill. Photographer caught us dogging it.
I wasn’t dogging it!!!
Changed to the visor means this is probably the 2nd yard.
Near the finish area of the 2nd yard.
3rd yard crossing the bouncy bridge and getting caught off-guard by the photographer again.

2021 Chasing the Sun 5K Race Report

When:  06/03/2021

Where:  New Lenox, Illinois

Distance:  5K

Results:  22:20 – 19th Overall – 12/124 Place Male Overall – 3rd Place M56-60 Age Group

Racing is back!  Not sure I am though.  After a year plus hiatus from racing due to the pandemic, I decided to join three of my coworkers and jump back into racing.  I felt some anxiety about participating in this race, which is the norm for me for any race, but it was mostly due to not really being prepared to race a 5K having done nothing but long and slow distance training for most of this year and last.  But I figured why not jump in and test my fitness a little, so I did.

I had checked the race results from 2019 and saw that I had a pretty good chance to possibly crack the top ten in this little local race, but when I got to the race I could clearly see that the competition was going to be strong.  People want to get back to racing I guess.  When I noticed that Tinley Track & Trail was well represented, I knew that a top ten finish was going to be a challenge.

I arrived and did my usual warm-up, and it didn’t take too long as the temps were in the low 80’s for this Thursday evening in June.  About five minutes prior to the start I took my place in the start area and waited for the gun.  Instead of a gun though, the girl starting the race gave some unclear message about starting the race when she starts the music.  Well, the music started and we where all like “do we go now?”  Someone took off, and the rest of us followed.

My plan was to try to stick with a guy named Rich from the Tinley T&T squad, as he is a little faster than me and would help me pace to my best effort.  Rich has become my main competitor (arch enemy) lately, as he is in my age group and I see him at most of the local races.

The race starts with a little uphill and then flattens off for a while.  When I noticed that I was running at 6:50 pace I tried to dial it back and settle in and also realized that I was once again hitting it too hard out of the gate.  That wasn’t my game plan, but I seem to always go out too fast for the first mile.  I clocked a 6:54 first mile and just shook my head.  Rich was still ahead of me but he was starting to build a little bit of a gap.

I used to have some dumb rules for myself about who not to let beat me in a race.  I need to add mom’s pushing baby strollers to the list, as two of them passed me in the second mile.  To their credit they were fit, but it sucks to get passed by anyone pushing a baby stroller!

The second mile came 7:19 and although that was a decent pace that should have been comfortable, it wasn’t because I had already burned all my matches in that first mile and that pace was being forced upon me.  I had driven the course earlier in the day because I was unfamiliar with it and saw that the last mile had a good drop but the last half-mile would be a climb uphill to the finish.  Once I made the turn onto that hilly portion I was maxed out.  I retook one of the stroller pushing moms but knew others were chasing me down.  I gave it my all but got passed by another runner named Kelly, who I know from the local running club.  But I was just glad to be finishing the last mile in 7:22 and coming in at 22:16, according to my watch.

The awards were quickly posted online and I could see that being third in my age group would not get me a medal for this race that only went two deep for the awards. Rich finished a half-minute ahead of me and I couldn’t quite match the pace at the end of another guy, who beat me by about ten seconds. Oh well, I need to be a little more prepared for next time and just be happy that racing has returned.  19th place out of 281 finishers isn’t so bad.

Summary:  Chasing the Sun 5K is a tough little course with lots of turns and challenging hills at the start and end.  I may keep this one on the calendar.  I kind of like races on weekday evenings.

Chasing the Sun 5K Results

Running Stories: Head Games

Adapting to life in a pandemic can lead to a little paranoia. Now that winter is here, any little sniffle or scratchy feeling in my throat or a need to cough makes me think that I’m coming down with a full-blown case of Covid-19 coronavirus. I’m sure most of us have gone through that and realized that you are probably overreacting. So far for me, I have not turned a need to cough into a need to quarantine myself.

As a runner, I have noticed that when it gets close to race day I can become very sensitive to some of the most minor issues that runners often deal with.  A slight twinge can make you think that you are about to have a serious running injury that will derail your race. These little aches and pains can very easily become big issues, but I find that most of the time they are benign. You just have to know when they are serious and when they can be ignored. And I have learned to ignore most of them.

Case in point – take a look at this photo:

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This is one of my favorite race photos.  Notice anything about the shoes?  Yep, they are brand new.

In 2009 I ran the Rockford Marathon in Rockford, Illinois. I was just getting back into running marathons after taking several years off from it thanks to enjoying my growing responsibilities as a new dad. Running was going well even though I was just winging marathon training as usual. Then race weekend approached and I developed a discomfort in the top area of my foot where it bends. I had not experienced this type of issue before and it only occurred when I was running. So naturally, I started freaking out. I couldn’t wear my shoes without it bugging me. I would attempt a jog around the block and think my foot might fall off. I was obsessing over it and I thought that I had really messed it up. So on the Saturday before the race, I went to the local sporting goods store and bought a new pair of shoes. And even though my foot felt weird in them still, I had no other option.

Trying something new on race day is generally thought of as a bad idea, and running in a new pair of shoes definitely fits in that category. But as I got to the race after a two-hour drive in the car fretting over the issue, I toed the line and told myself to just forget about it. And guess what?  The pain never presented itself again. Maybe all of the circuses surrounding a marathon was distraction from it enough, but I think I was just obsessing over it. It seems that I was just hypersensitive to the way the shoes felt on my feet.

In another example, my teammates and I were all together in Louisville, Kentucky to participate in Ironman Louisville in 2017 when I heard Alex complaining to his dad Dave that his foot was killing him. He was convinced that he had developed a foot injury, probably plantar fasciitis, as it was bothering him just to walk around. I immediately thought of the marathon in Rockford and told him it was all in his head, that he was just hypersensitive to the sensation he was feeling in his foot.  I’m not sure if that made him feel any better or not.  Alex ran a 3:30 marathon on his way to a 10:14 Ironman and 5th in his age group finish. I didn’t hear him complain about his foot after that.

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Me (bib 2400) on my on my first of two loops cheering Alex (bib 513) on toward the finish of his second loop/race as he passed me.  My wife Kari just happened to be in the right place at the right time to grab this great shot.  I don’t think his foot was bothering him here.

I still tell my self to ignore most little twinges of discomfort.  I would be reluctant however, to tell someone that the pain they are experiencing is not real. But when it’s near race day, sometimes it’s just in your head.

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.