I have been quietly putting in the running miles for Tunnel Hill 100 in November. As I run, I have a lot of time to think about the enormity of running 100 miles – the training, the race, the external needs, etc. I attempted the 100-mile run in 2021, but ultimately dropped at the 50-mile finish and was allowed to accept the 50-mile finisher award. I was warned as a 100-mile registrant to resist the urge to quit at 50 by many different people but quit I did. I’m not ashamed of it at all, as completing 50 miles is a pretty impressive accomplishment. But as all of the people warning me indicated, I would regret it sooner or later. For me, it was sooner. By the time I had gotten to the hotel, cleaned up, and had some food, I was already regretting it. I felt that I let myself down, my son and my daughter-in-law who had come to pace me, and my wife who was there for support and provide all the dumb things I needed to go 100 miles. They were there and ready to do their jobs, I just didn’t do mine.
Continuing past the 50-mile mark while attempting to hit 100 should have been a no-brainer. I often say that the hardest part of any run is taking the first step, as once you get started you often will finish the job. But I just didn’t take that first step past the halfway point. I spent miles 30 to 49 debating with myself as to whether to drop at 50 0r keep going. I vacillated back and forth many times, but at the time I was worn out, tired and sore and felt that going on would have been rough on me. I guess I was afraid of what was to come and getting the 50-mile finish was a pretty good consolation prize. Until it wasn’t.
I have spent many a training mile thinking about the mistake or mistakes I made last time, but I am reluctant to call them mistakes. I think that making improvements on what happened would be more productive, so I am focusing on the positive and trying to make improvements. Here are some of the things I have been thinking about improving upon.
DO THE APPROPRIATE TRAINING – My first attempt at Tunnel Hill in 2021 became a secondary event to Ironman Chattanooga when Covid-19 messed up my plans and put the two races in the same calendar year. Nothing I could do about it, but at the time I chose to make Chatty my priority, and focus my training on the Ironman and hope that it would be enough to get me through the ultramarathon. I’m not totally convinced that the Ironman training I was doing wasn’t enough to get me through 100 miles, but it’s really hard to substitute swimming/biking/running for just long-running. This time I decided to focus my training on just doing the ultra. I haven’t even raced a sprint triathlon or 5K this year, I’m just doing long, slow distance running.
TRAIN THE BRAIN – Ironman can be emboldening, making you believe that “anything is possible” (a motto of theirs), so I thought that if I can finish an Ironman (or now five of them) I can easily get through an ultra. Boy, I underestimated the ultra distance and what it took mentally to get through it. Pushing on was something I wasn’t able to do. How do you get over that mental hurdle? I’m still trying to figure it out, but for now, I keep pushing myself out the door when I need to do so. In marathon training, you typically build to one 20-mile training run before the race. I’ve done several 18-milers and a couple of 20-mile runs so far, with many more to do. I need to get those distances in not only for my legs but for my mind as well. I’m guessing with the miles I run and the time I put into them, my mind will get used to being along for the ride.
Right now it’s summer and it’s been a hot and humid one too. I have to resist the temptation to judge where I will be in November based on where I’m at now. My brain sometimes tells me that I’m going to struggle with this, but it’s all because I’m currently struggling with heat and humidity. Got to get through the plan and get close to race day, then I will know where I stand.
USE THE GADGETS – I acquired what I thought I might need to run long distances – shoes with more cushion, shoe gaiters, trekking poles, headlamps, portable watch and phone chargers, and other odds and ends, but I haven’t really used them much. Last year I did use the lights from about mile 35 to 50, but I wasn’t used to running with them. I did very little training running with lights, and they can be kind of weird. Some runners say that the bouncing movement of the light from a headlamp can make them feel a little unbalanced. I didn’t really have a problem with that, but I can see it having a strobe light-type effect. I did practice with the watch charger in training last year, but having a new watch with better battery life might make them unnecessary. I think the watch will last the full 100 miles. But I should probably refresh myself on how to use them while running.
DO SOME NIGHTTIME RUNNING – My wife Kari “coaches” me often with thoughtful suggestions, and one of them that I could benefit from is doing some nighttime running. Tunnel Hill starts at 7am in November and you had daylight until about 4:30pm, so not even 10 hours of sunlight. The majority of the race will be run in the dark. Last year it was so dark in southern Illinois that without the light I couldn’t see anything. There were people coming back to finish 50 miles without lights and I had no idea how they were staying on the path! Some practice running at night with lights would be a good idea. But I think she is also suggesting that I run at night when it’s the time of day that I’m getting tired. I don’t really remember feeling “sleepy” tired last year, thanks to caffeine, more of a fatigued muscles-type tired. But it is a good suggestion. I will suggest that she join me.
RE-EVALUATE YOUR EXPECTATIONS – Last year I had no idea what to expect and just going off of what my training leading up to the race was telling me, I foolishly thought that a sub-24-hour finish was probable. Heck, I was averaging 5.5 miles every hour in training and thinking a sub-20-hour finish might happen! Man, did that race teach me a lesson. I did happen to finish the 50 in 11 hours and 32 minutes, but there was no way I was going to be able to do another 12-hour 50 miles. The experience from last year has made me adjust my expectations a little. I’m still going to shoot for around 24 hours, but the overall goal, and one I can’t overlook, IS TO FINISH THE DAMN DISTANCE!
WHAT THE PACE? – One of the crucial elements of running 100 miles is going at a pace that won’t kill you too soon, and I think I blew this part of it last year. That’s a surprising statement seeing that my local friends all went out much faster than me for the first 25 miles of it. It was quite a shock to be bringing up the rear when I was holding a sub-20 pace myself! With the exception of Leah, who turned in and impressive 22:54, Jim ended up slowing and dropping out around the 70 mile mark, and Jodi seemed to run out of gas as well, but added another exceptional finish to her ultra running resume. I think that they tend to run until they can’t any more, and then walk some to recover. I try to build walk breaks into my miles by run/walking, essentially running four minutes and then walking for 2. But am I doing enough walking?
As I mentioned above, I could hold 5.5 miles/hour fairly well, which gave me the expectations of easily going sub-24, but I tired and ended up slowing down in the last 15 miles pretty dramatically. I settled on a 4-minute run/2-minute walk method in order to give me a break and keep me from overdoing it. But I think it was still too fast. Since I hit the 5-mile mark around 50 minutes, I have tinkered with walking the remaining 10-minutes of every hour. This will give me an additional extended walking break, and still keep me on track. I will see how this goes.
GET THE NUTRITION DIALED IN – In my five Ironman races I have been fortunate to have been pretty consistent with my in-race nutritional needs. For some reason, I just struggle with it during training. Lately I have been a little better, but on race days I tend to skip eating solid food when I shouldn’t. Sometimes what the race is offering isn’t all that appetizing to me. Sometimes I don’t eat enough. My two Backyard Ultra races this year I struggled both times with getting enough food, even though I was trying to do better. It’s tough to run on a full stomach, so I might have to experiment with eating more over a longer period of time, rather than just scarfing down a bunch of food in a 2-3 minute break.
So there you have it, I’m sticking to the plan, trusting it, doing the work, and trying to avoid the mistakes. I just hope I’m not overthinking it. Future updates to follow, I’m sure. Thanks for reading.
I got some new shoes the other day and immediately felt faster. I wasn’t actually faster, but I felt like I was. I could think of a couple of reasons that made me feel that way.
First, I have been running in black colored shoes. I used to avoid black shoes because they had the opposite effect on me – they made me feel slow for some reason. Black just seems clunky in my head. But black goes best with my winter running gear, and I guess I just carried black shoes over into the summer. My new shoes are a light grey and when I started the run I felt like an Olympian, running with speed and grace.
The second reason is a little more obvious, they were new, felt springy, and I was bouncing along with seemingly less effort. Feeling faster from a new pair of shoes should make it easier, I suppose.
After that initial fast-feeling run, I was surprised to see that I really wasn’t any faster than most of the recent runs I had been doing.
There are other times when I felt like a piece of gear made me “feel” faster. Going from a road bike to an aero bike surely made me feel faster, and when I stay in aero I should definitely be faster. I noticed once that I was riding on the trail with my friend John, sitting upright and having a chat and traveling at the same speed, but when I went down into aero without changing my cadence, I slowly started to edge ahead.
Sticking with the bike, I added a set of FLO aero wheels to it and immediately felt fast. Aero wheels make your bike look fast standing still. They just look cool – and fast! FLO makes good wheels and the price is among the least expensive in the aero wheel market, so buying a set made me definitely feel faster and part of the cool kids club. How much faster are they? My combo set of wheels will save you maybe 6-10 minutes in an Ironman, according to the FLO wheels website. https://blog.flocycling.com/carbon-wheels/how-much-time-will-flo-wheels-save-me/ Not exactly blazing speed, but you believe it makes a difference. Still worth it, even if looking cool makes you feel faster.
I also bought an aero helmet, which I had read once that can make one faster for a lot less than a set of aero wheels. I’m wearing the dumb thing in the picture at the top of this blog. I have to admit I don’t really feel faster wearing it. I feel rather silly, actually. I will toss it on for sprints, but I’m not sure the aero advantage of it outweighs the overall protection of a regular cycling helmet in the event of a crash. My aero helmet just seems less protective. The dumb things that are on my mind while just riding and racing a bike are sometimes pretty deep.
What else can make you feel faster? A new racing kit? For sure. A new pair of socks? Yes sir. But do they actually make you faster? Well, sometimes you just got to go with what makes you feel like you are.
I’d love to hear what makes you feel faster. Add some suggestions in the comments below.
What a difference a year makes! After just going through the motions last year, running and biking without any racing, it was such a joy to have racing back again in 2021. As I write this, December 2021 is starting to feel more like 2020, and I definitely do not want to go back there, but I think the ship will right itself again.
2021 saw a return to racing for me. I tried to not go overboard with racing, and there were some changes to how things were done, but we were allowed to push ourselves once again.
On the triathlon front, I got in two events – the first being an “off-road” sprint triathlon that was a lot of fun, and resulted in an age-group placing. And I completed my fifth Ironman in Chattanooga with my friends.
It was also a year of new adventures in running for me as I trained for and ran a couple ultra marathons. I found training for the ultras to reinvigorate my passion for running. I also found that going slower can also be fun. I learned quite a bit about myself on those training runs and during the events as well. I’ve already signed up to do the Big Hill Bonk event, as well as another attempt at the Tunnel Hill 100. I’m an Ultra Runner now!!!
In the spring I began my training for Ironman Chattanooga, which I made my goal “A” race, and would train for the other stuff around that training. Although it prepared me well for the Ironman, I think the training wasn’t quite adequate for the 100-miler, and that became clear to me when I decided to drop at the halfway mark and take the 50-mile finish. I felt no regret about stopping at 50 miles at the time I did it, but it wasn’t long before I was regretting it a little. I will prepare myself with a little more ultra-specific run training and arm myself with what I learned from the race to give it another try in the fall.
Summer saw me entering my first race of the year and first time back at racing since Covid shut down everything in 2020. I was urged by a few of my coworkers to run a local 5K and that was a fun return to road racing. The course was hilly and tough, and the warm day didn’t lend to a great 5K time, but I did okay-ish. Here’s the race report: 2021 Chasing the Sun 5K Race Report
Next was a new, local triathlon that was “off-road,” which basically meant it was on a crushed limestone trail for the bike and run. I was excited about that because I got to actually race my gravel bike for the first time. You can read about it here: The Forge Off-road Triathlon Race Report
In August the Big Hill Bonk – Wisconsin’s Backyard Ultra race finally took place after a couple of postponements and it was a ton of fun. This race format of running multiple 4.16 mile loops every hour is still kind of new, so I found myself learning as I ran. And what I learned is that I had a lot of fun running through the woods and into the dark of night. It was a great experience and I look forward to doing it again in April 2022. Eight laps, or “yards” netted me 33 total miles. The adventure can be found on this post: Big Hill Bonk – Wisconsin Backyard Ultra Race Report
Next up was a return to Chattanooga for my fifth Ironman with my Gunner teammates Dave, Jeff, and Jan. Weatherwise, race day was much better than what we experienced in 2019, a dreadfully hot and humid day. This race was wetsuit legal, a first for Chattanooga, I believe. Even with an extra four miles on the bike course, and the run course being one of the hilliest ever, I turned in my second fastest IM time. Here’s the report: 2021 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report
I had about a month and a half to work on building some mileage for my first attempt at running 100 miles. I worked on pacing and in-race nutrition while logging lots of weekly miles in training. Race day came and I felt prepared, but my body was aching a little and my mind wasn’t quite prepared to tell my body to keep going. Thankfully, at Tunnel Hill you can get the 50-mile finisher award if you decide to drop at the half-way point, and that’s what I did. I’ve never run that far in one day ever, and I’m pretty proud of that. Read about Tunnel Hill here: Tunnel Hill 50 Mile Run Race Report
One little note about the Boston Marathon. I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2019 and got my third Boston qualifier, albiet barely. I was thirteen seconds under the qualifying time and even though I was proud of that, I knew that a BQ-13 would not be quick enough, and I didn’t give any thought to applying to run it again. I was wrong. Boston announced that there would be NO CUTOFF FOR 2022! I could have made it in! Oh well, I’m not sure I wanted to run it on such short notice anyway. Running Boston in 2018 was such a miserable experience (!) and great memory for me, I might not ever want to run it again!
So that wraps up 2021. What’s in store for 2022? Well, it seems that I’ve gotten myself entangled in a hodge-podge of events that I will have to figure out how to train for. Plus, I have to keep the calendar clear for a couple reasons: Kari and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in September and we are hoping to go on a trip. And my son Ben and fiance Emily are planning a summer wedding, which doesn’t quite have a concrete date yet. I’m looking forward to both of those non-running, non-triathloning events!
But I have already committed to running the Big Hill Bonk in April, which I have sorta started training for now. I’ve also added the Manteno sprint tri for the end of July. I’m toying with adding the Chicago Triathlon for the end of August. And since the Chicago Marathon notified me that I have legacy and can sign up for the race, I did so. It may end up being another attempt at a Boston qualifier, or it may end up being a training run for Tunnel Hill 100, which I committed to just 2 hours ago. Yeah, I have some unfinished business there. And I’m a glutton for punishment.
So here’s to 2022 and a happy and healthy racing year.
JANUARY – 21 Runs / 140 Miles / 35 Miles per week
FEBRUARY – 15 Runs / 79 Miles / 20 Miles per week
MARCH – 19 Runs / 85 Miles / 21 Miles per week
APRIL – 15 Runs / 78 Miles / 19 Miles per week
MAY – 17 Runs / 91 Miles / 23 Miles per week
JUNE – 18 Runs / 98 Miles / 24.5 Miles per week
JULY – 18 Runs / 120 Miles / 30 Miles per week
AUGUST – 20 Runs / 180 Miles / 45 Miles per week
SEPTEMBER – 18 Runs / 124 Miles / 31 Miles per week
OCTOBER – 21 Runs / 242 Miles / 60.5 Miles per week
NOVEMBER – 14 Runs / 158 Miles / 39 Miles per week
DECEMBER – 13 Runs / 95 Miles / 24 Miles per week
2021 TOTALS – 209 Runs / 1490 Miles / 28.6 Miles per week
LIFETIME RUNNING TOTAL
29049 Total Lifetime Miles / 5190 Total Lifetime Runs / 33rd Year of Running
After doing this race in 2019 and nearly melting from the heat, my buddy Dave and I were in agreement about not wanting to ever experience that again. I definitely tried to avoid Chattanooga, but fate pushed me there.
I had signed up for the 2020 Ironman Louisville race but it got canceled due to some social unrest in the city and of course, a worldwide pandemic. Ironman gave me four options to transfer to, three of which were also fall 2020 races and clearly not going to happen. The only other option was to go back to Chatty in 2021 and hope that the world would settle down. Thankfully, we had a better knowledge about the virus, and the vaccine helped keep the option for racing open in 2021. Things still aren’t ideal, but it’s getting better.
So I opted for a return trip to Chattanooga and I was soon joined by my Gunner buddies Jeff, his sister Jan, and eventually Dave. A few local friends also opted to give Choo a go – Susan, John, and Charlie, as well as first-timers Angela and Daniel. At first I thought that this race was going to be a solo affair for me, but now it was a full-fledged party!
Training thirty weeks for an Ironman is an awfully long time.
Once again I broke out the old trusty Be Iron Fit training book and followed the plan. 30-weeks broken into base, build, and endurance phases that has prepared this self-coached triathlete well in four previous Ironman races.
I follow the plan pretty closely with a few changes that I have found over the previous training cycles to be beneficial to me. First, I reduced the swim from the hour-plus swim, 2-3 times per week that the book dictates, to two 30-minute swims per week. I’m not the greatest swimmer, but once I had the technique down, I found that the swim training that the book wants me to do is INSANE. Plus, I get so bored swimming that I just can’t take much more than 30-minutes. I did get in a longer open water swim in Minocqua at my lake home, and I did one 4200 yard swim in my pool in the closing weeks of training just to prove to myself that I could do the distance.
Biking was more of a group thing for me this time around, and I often joined the locals for the rides out to Elwood. My coworker Tom, who had caught the triathlon bug and signed up for Ironman Muncie 70.3 was also a training ride partner. A couple of weekends I was joined by Susan, which were much needed in order to help each other get over the mental struggle of training. She won’t take any credit for turning me around mentally, but she deserves some none-the-less. Overall, it was a pretty good year for cycling leading up to the race.
As for the running – oh boy. I foolishly signed up for a “last runner standing” format ultra which also got postponed to August. I just used my Ironman training and it got me through 8-loops and 33 miles, completing my first 50K distance ultramarathon. After that, it was back to the plan and doing the work with one exception – I also foolishly signed up for the Tunnel Hill 100, an ultra-marathon in November. I’m pretty dumb. So I decided that even though I wasn’t going to increase my mileage, I did adapt to doing some run/walk long runs. I learned that a ratio of about 4.5 minutes of running with a 1.5 minute walk break on my Sunday long runs was working pretty good for me. Since I was doing Chattanooga, I figured that I was going to be walking most of the marathon anyway, so why not get used to that style of running.
How hot is it going to be this year?
Summer was hot here in the Chicago area again this year and I could sense that race day might be ugly once again. Boy was I wrong. I generally avoid looking at the weather forecast until it gets closer to race day, but it was shaping up to be beautiful. How beautiful? How about mid to upper 70s, no rain and no wind. If you could pick the perfect day, this might have been an ideal race day forecast. And if that wasn’t good enough, it rained for several days leading up to the race which cooled the water temp down below the wetsuit legal temperature of 76.1. I think this was a first for Chattanooga – a wetsuit legal swim!
What can go wrong will go wrong.
Race week meant one final check of the bike and I decided to give the drive train one last going over. That’s when my 8-year-old rear derailleur decided to die.
I drove the bike up to Spokes in Wheaton, Illinois and begged a guy named Chris to fix it for me. He said I was screwed. Actually, he said that they don’t stock 10-speed parts as they aren’t being used anymore. But he searched through an old box of spare parts and found a lesser level Sram 10-speed derailleur in workable condition. He bolted it on, I took it for a test spin, happily forked over the $70 bucks, and then thanked my lucky stars. The next day the bike was in the car and I was headed to Chattanooga.
When Carla wasn’t involved in picking out our lodging, things can get weird.
Since Dave was a last minute sign up, his wife Carla wasn’t doing all of the work finding us lodging. I didn’t mind our last hotel that we stayed at in Chattanooga, but I was hoping for something closer. I settled on the Marriott Residence Inn, which I totally picked because it was a block away and it had a little kitchenette thing. When I checked in I got some attitude from the guy at the front desk about not canceling our second room soon enough, and then I made my way to the room. It was a little dirty and smelled a little, but I was glad to have plenty room for my stuff. It got a little weird when the toilet wouldn’t flush and they had to call a plumber in to remove the travel-sized deodorant that someone had flushed down it. Fun times.
Kari flew in and soon the whole Gunner gang was in town. The next couple of days were spent checking in for the race, organizing our gear bags, and then dropping the bags and the bikes off. Gunner Jeff, a four-time Ironman, for some reason could not remember the bike/bag drop-off procedure, which I found highly entertaining. Race week anxiety does some weird stuff to your brain.
We typically try to find a restaurant to eat a prerace meal at, but since we couldn’t find something at such a short notice for our big group, we opted for a family-style spaghetti dinner, courtesy of Jill and assisted by her daughter Emma and my wife Kari. It might have been the best prerace dinner ever. We had such good conversations and the meal was delicious.
Why am I nervous? Prerace anxiety sucks.
After setting a couple of alarms I was ready to hit the sack. Except there was no way I was going to fall asleep. At 10:30pm or so, I got back up and took a portion of an Ambien and tried again. According to Kari, I was soon asleep. According to me, my brain was active all night long.
Race day is finally here!
The alarms went off and I got up and showered. Dave always showers before the race but it’s a sometimes for me. I felt like the shower might wake me up more and needed a shave, so I took one. Next up was getting dressed and grabbing some food. Then off to meet the gang to walk down to the village and into transition to check the bike and bags.
We hopped onto the school bus for the shuttle ride to the swim start and then settled into to await the start. I heard that the kayak volunteers were late getting into the water for some reason, which delayed our start by about ten minutes, but we heard the pro racers start and we would be next.
I had made a Facebook friend, a guy named Marc the Shark, and had missed seeing him at Louisville in 2017 and so far for this race too, but as I was looking around there he was just a couple of people away. I said hello and we wished each other well.
Next thing I knew I was walking down the ramp and jumping into the Tennessee River with hardly any performance expectation other than to finish without getting too worn out.
59 MINUTES!?!? THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT!
The swim went swimmingly. I drifted to the right, away from the shore and more toward the middle of the river in order to take advantage of any current that was pushing us along. The kayakers will only let you get so far away from the buoys, so I found myself pretty much between them and the kayakers. It seemed like I was swimming by myself, once again enjoying the almost 100% contactless swim. I had a little hint of a foot cramp happening, but I was able to kick it out of my system.
As the buoys turned from yellow to orange at the halfway point, I found myself getting closer to them and eventually looked up to find them on my right side for the first time. I got past the island in the middle of the river and the three bridges were dead ahead. The next thing I knew I rounded the red turn buoy and swam to the ladder, and that’s when I glanced at my watch – 59 minutes. That’s insane. I know that this course could give me a quick swim, but never in my life did I think I could swim 2.4 miles in under an hour. 00:59:43 officially. A swim PR for me.
SWIM: 00:59:43 – 52nd in Male 55-59 Age Group / 529th Male / 679th Overall
Why do I suck at the swim to bike transition?
My plan going for getting through the first transition was to not waste time like I usually do. So what did I do? I found a way to waste time.
As you can see in my swim photos I still have my swim goggles on. That’s because they are prescription and I need them to see where I am going, find my bag, and go find a place to sit down and get ready for the bike. All that went well enough but as soon as I put my eyeglasses on, they fogged up. Nice. Now I couldn’t see much at all. I couldn’t find my socks at first, but then I remembered that I had put them into one of my shoes. I found my towel and dried my feet and got some Skin Glide on them and then struggled to get my socks on. Next were the arm sleeves that went on okay thanks to me rolling them on, but then I realized that I hadn’t put on any sunscreen yet and I was sure that I would take the arm sleeves off when I warmed up. So I started looking for my spray can of sunscreen and couldn’t find it. Since I knew that they had a sun screen table at the exit of the bike corral, I stopped looking for my own and got all of my swim crap into the bag. The helmet got strapped, my nutrition, consisting of five Payday fun size candy bars, a Stroopwafel, and my gel flask, got thrown into my back pockets, and off I clopped to find my bike.
I walked the bike over to the table with the sunscreen and took off my gloves and started hitting the most vulnerable spots heavily. The gloves went back on and off I clopped again to the mount line to begin my tour of a sliver of southern Tennessee and a big chunk of northern Georgia.
They say this is a beautiful and scenic bike course. I’ll take their word for it.
Almost all of the Ironman bike courses are listed as “scenic” and I’m sure that they are. But when you are riding along at 18 mph or so, with others jockeying around you on roads that sometimes aren’t in the best shape, you tend to spend more attention to not crashing than the beautiful scenery. But this time I did actually take a few moments to gaze at the mountains and the local picturesque landscape. I did notice some low lying fog in the early stages.
I had a long sleeve shirt that I intended to put on when I started the bike but I opted not to use it and I was fine. I rode with the arm sleeves and gloves for more than half of the race before tossing them.
Heading out of town was at a fast pace. It was that way in 2019, too. I didn’t feel like I was pushing hard or anything, but after about an hour of a pace faster than I normally train at, I knew that I would be pushing pace all through the bike. The first 56 miles was under three hours by a lot, a time that I would have been really proud of if it was just a 70.3 race.
Like usual, I was glad to be getting off the bike at the end. I didn’t feel as miserable as I normally do, but 116 miles and a little over 6 hours is a long time to be riding a bike. I handed my bike to a kid volunteer to put away and jokingly told her to change the oil and give it a wash and I would be back to pick it up in five hours. She looked at me like I had two heads. Tough crowd. I guess comedy isn’t my thing.
My Garmin had me at 6:06 with the autopause turned on. That’s a huge PR for me. Garmin also has a 18.9 mph average and a top speed of 39.1 mph.
BIKE: 6:18:27 – 55th Male 55-59 Age Group / 544th Male / 662nd Overall
Time for the emotions to kick in.
As I walked from dropping the bike off with the kid, I got hit with the feels. Usually this hits me around the last mile or so of the marathon, but I was pretty proud of what I just did on the bike, as well as the swim. It didn’t last long. I was handed my Run Gear bag and off to the changing tent to waste some time.
I sat down and pulled the cycling gear off and looked for the Dude Wipe (basically a big wet wipe) and wiped my face off, as well as the bugs that I had accumulated on my sweaty shoulders. It always makes me feel a little fresher to clean up a little.
Amazingly enough, I had a sun screen can in my bag. It’s less necessary at this part of the race, but I sprayed my bald head and arms anyway. With the bib belt, shoes and visor on, I grabbed my nutrition and started out of transition.
T2 – 7:11
This marathon is no joke. I’m not going to crush this.
On Friday, I approached a first timer as he was talking with his wife about the run course and I told him that the run starts on the sidewalk about 300 yards back there and the walk starts here, pointing to the hill not even a quarter mile into the course. I was joking, but not really. I saw a photographer and gave a half-hearted effort at running for the picture but it wasn’t going so well for me.
I felt hot, which is not uncommon for me. Yes, it was still sunny and later into the day, but when you are riding you have that constant wind blowing on you to help cool you off. I walked about a half-mile before I even started thinking about running.
After the first couple of aid stations, I started to get more hydration and sugar into me and started to come around. By the time I got four miles into it I was feeling better.
It wasn’t long and Gunner Jeff caught me. I knew he would. We would leap frog back and forth sharing the run lead for the rest of the way, but seeing that he had made up the difference in what little lead I had with the swim and bike, I knew that he was ahead of me by chip time even if he was standing right next to me. The same thing happened last time as well, it just happened sooner this year. He’s good.
In 2019, I made it a goal at the start of the second loop to try to get through the wooded park along the river walk before it got dark but didn’t get it done. This time it was no problem.
I caught Jeff again and we walked up the dreaded Barton Avenue hill together and for most of the rest of that north side of the river portion of the course. I recognized my local friend Daniel just as we were turning off of Barton. He seemed to be somewhat doubtful about finishing, but I tried my best to encourage him to keep moving forward. He was in a rough place mentally, but he overcame it and finished in plenty of time.
Jeff and I also saw Dave heading up the hill as we were heading down and knew he was also going to finish not far behind us.
As we approached the walking bridge I told Jeff that I was going to walk the uphill portion of it and not to wait for me. I could have jogged with him, but I wanted him to go get his glory and cross the line first. He finished about a minute ahead of me according to the time of day, but he bested me by about 11 minutes.
As I got over the bridge I was forced to run through a gauntlet of fans that crowd the run course and one guy got an extended evil eye from me and got out of my way. I ran down the hill and turned onto the road to finish. As I approached the finish chute I kept checking in front and behind me to have a good finish for myself and things were looking good. But all at once this dope comes screaming past me and spoils my finish. And to add to that disappointment, the announcer didn’t even call me in! WTF? Oh well, it’s not my first Ironman finish, and it probably won’t be my last. But the photos still prove that I had a great race.
RUN: 5:04:47 – 50th Male in 55-59 Age Group / 476th Male / 612th Overall
FINAL TIME: 12:42:42 – 2nd fastest Ironman Finish / Swim & Bike Ironman PR’s / 5th Ironman Finish
But wait, there’s more!
Loads of thanks to go around. To my wife Kari – you’re my Iron Rock. Thanks for supporting me not only once or twice, but five times now. I promise to take next year off!
To my Gunner teammates Dave, Jeff, and Jan – thanks for being on the journey with me once again. Doing a race without you would never be as fun.
To my local friends Susan, John, Charlie, Angela, and Daniel – WELL DONE! You are all IRONMEN! And let’s not forget Casey, who magically appeared at the finish line as a volunteer and handed a much surprised me my finisher hat, medal and shirt! That was unexpected and a great way to finish.
29 weeks down, 1 week to go! I’ve gone from Week 1 back in March and doing my workouts inside, to seeing farm fields go from untilled dirt, to not being able to see around turns due to the corn being fully grown. I’ve gone from being mentally burned out, to being very atuned to how great I feel. I’ve been so far from being ready, to feeling like I’m ready to rock this race. All it took was a day to day effort, following a great plan for the fifth time, and having the support of my Gunner teammates and the local friends that have been very instrumental in making this training block pleasurable. Let’s roll!
I try to plan out a race day plan for myself and in 2019 it became very clear that the day would be about surviving the heat. It was a scorcher and I won’t ever forget it. I don’t really try to worry too much about the weather or water temperatures for race day, but after 2019 I’m not ignoring it either. So when a couple of casual checks of the long-range forecast revealed that the temperature might be in the 70s and sunny, well that changes my mindset a little. I may be going from planning to pace an Ironman to racing it instead. It means instead of a 16.5 mph average on the bike to maybe an 18 mph average. It means that I may be able to run a sub-4.5 hour marathon instead of something over 5 hours. I’m definitely bringing the wetsuit, like always. But last time I knew I wasn’t going to be using it. This time? There might be a wetsuit legal swim for the first time in Choo history. We’ll see, I’m not holding my breath, but it would be awesome if it was.
So, let’s wrap up these 29 weeks and get ready for race week. Here’s a summary and a link to all previous weeks. I’ll give you a virtual medal for going back and reading all these blogs.
The taper is here! I’m finally winding down the training and enjoying the feeling of accomplishing what I needed to do to get myself ready for my fifth Ironman. I’ve trained on cold days, hot days, windy days, rainy days, and beautiful days as well. I think that it’s okay to start celebrating the work that I have done even if I haven’t got to the starting line yet. So, after 27 weeks of building up to long bike rides and long runs, it’s time to start pulling back.
The band Boston certainly played a huge part in the soundtrack of my youth, and I still enjoy their music today. Of course, the first two albums were what made them, but their third album Third Stage was a big hit as well.
I’ve been hearing the song We’re Ready quite a bit lately on SiriusXM’s Classic Rewind and I find one verse of the lyrics very fitting for this third stage of Ironman training. I certainly feel like I’m ready.
We’re ready now Catchin’ a wave to ride on Steady now Headin’ where we decide on And I know that there’s something that’s just out of sight And I feel like we’re trying to do something right Come on make it if we hold on tight Hold on tight We’re Ready! C’mon we’re ready We’re ready
There’s another song on that album called Cool The Engines, which is also very appropriate for the taper. I took advantage of the cooler weather this week and the lighter training load to push my pace a little bit. Maybe I just wanted to rev the engine somewhat. But in the back of my mind, I could hear my brain reminding me to not overdo it.
Take me for a ride Take me all the way Take me where I’ve never been Someplace I can stay Don’t get yourself too hot Don’t get yourself too high If we don’t take it easy now We can kiss it all goodbye
Cool the engines Red line’s gettin’ near Cool the engines Better take it out of gear
I’m no fool Gonna keep it cool Take it day by day We won’t know where we might go ‘Til we make it all the way
So, it’s time for me to cool the engines and bring on the taper! We’re ready!
I took the time on Friday to fix my rear brakes and to put on new tires and throw on Conti 5000’s for the first time. The brakes are working well again, and the new tires were like floating on air on Saturday’s ride.
I rode with a group on Saturday and by the time we spread out I found myself riding mostly with Julie, whom I had never met before at these rides, but her pace and mine got us through Elwood and I enjoyed getting to meet another local rider. Julie is an Ironman, and said she was training for Ironman Waco in October. Good luck, Julie!
I have to take a moment and brag on my son Ben a little. He ran a local half-marathon called the Hidden Gem and nailed a PR for himself – 1:16:34, a 5:51 pace! My kid is smoking fast! Great job, Ben!
I’m also excited to hear that another Gunner fence-sitter may have committed to joining Jeff, Jan, and I on this dumb idea. YESSSSSSSS!
On Sunday I wrapped up my week with a 2-hour long run on mine and my wife Kari’s 29th wedding annniversary. I’m so lucky to have shared 29 wedded years with this woman, and I look forward to many more! I’m also very lucky she tolerates these adventures I go on.
I usually refer to Week 27 of the Be Iron Fit Ironman training plan as the “Dreaded Week 27.” It’s the toughest week in the 30-weeks of training, ending in a 6-hour bike ride with a one hour run right after it on Saturday, and a 3-hour long run on Sunday. But I took a little sting out of it by basically doing that workout at the end of Week 26. I did that for a couple of reasons. First, the opportunity presented itself last Saturday to ride an extra half-hour when I rode with Susan and we were managing our effort very well, staying hydrated and fueled on a very hot day. So as we got closer to getting back I just committed to it and it worked out fine. Same with Sunday, I was feeling good and figured I would just go an extra 15-minutes and make it a full 3-hour run. On the Friday before those two days I was somewhat dreading the weekend, but after getting out there and doing the extended portions and feeling good afterwards, it was a huge confidence builder for me.
Secondly, my wife Kari and I planned to head north to our lake home to enjoy some lake life and take care of some fall house and yard needs, and I thought that if I did the workouts a week ahead of time, I might not be so pressed for time or be so wornout if I swapped the planned workouts. I may even cut the long Saturday ride and long Sunday run down and start my tapering a little earlier this time around.
Here’s how the Dreaded Week 27 went for me.
Monday is usually a rest day, and I usually putter around the house and do the things that get neglected during the week; catch up on laundry, mow the grass, get groceries, etc. But after a couple of walks I was bored and thought why not do a swim. So I put on some tri shorts and jumped in. 30-minutes is my typical swim workout, but I was feeling good so I pushed it to 60-minutes. When I got to sixty I was still feeling pretty good, so I pushed it another half-hour, and before I knew it I had swum 4300 yards – covering the distance of an Ironman swim. There was no tiredness, no calf or foot cramps, and really no boredom, which surprised the heck out of me. Knowing that I can easily swim the 2.4 miles in my own backyard pool in 1.5 hours was a good feeling. Oh sure, I have done the Ironman swim four previous times, so I know that I can do it. But I still needed to train for each one of those previous attempts, and prove that it can be accomplished with smart training. Could I actually be enjoying swimming? Let’s not get carried away.
Tuesday ushered in a little bit less heat for the day and I ran at a time when there was a coolish breeze and it was overcast. I did the 10-minute warm-up and then started in on the five 6-minute repeats. I was pacing them pretty well. My legs were a little sore at the start, but when I picked up pace I did so easily. My turnover felt smooth and comfortable. I felt like I was rocking it! I skipped the swim due to the previous day’s effort, and opted to vacuum the pool instead.
Wednesday was quite a different day weather-wise than what I had last weekend. Much cooler, with a strong northeast wind. I hopped on the bike and was flying along heading south on my usual route. I saw my buddy Charlie attempting to run on his two injured toes and wished him a good run. I must have been averaging over 20 mph heading south, but turning around and coming back north was not fun. The ride ended with a 18 mph average, so I guess I was doing okay. A quick change to running shoes and it was off on a 30-minute run. I didn’t feel the wind as much, but the cooler temperature had me running with a good tempo. I like to use the Wednesday bike/run brick as a hard effort instead of staying in a Zone 2 heart rate zone. It’s the one day I like to hit the gas.
Thursday ushered in another cooler day and the winds were better for me as well, which caused me to push myself a little more than I should of. I could feel my calves tightening, but the 1.5-hour ride went well. I jumped in the pool afterwards and tried to swim, but I was getting some calf cramps and called it a day after 21 minutes.
Friday I got in my 1.5-hour run and then jumped into the car with Kari to head to Wisconsin.
Saturday was rainy of course, but it wasn’t too bad, and after a hearty breakfast with Kari at Tula’s in Minocqua the rain was turning to a misty drizzle on its way to ending. I planned to do a 5-hour ride and I stuck to it. I headed down Hwy J towards St. Germain to pick up the trails and head into the beautiful Northwoods. I hadn’t even gotten a few miles into it and the wet road and what little leftover sprinkles had me pretty wet. But it was bearable and I kept pushing on. I had never went further than Boulder Junction before so I continued onward and found the trail toward Manitowish Waters to be beautiful.
I took a couple of minutes on the way back to stop and enjoy some scenery just west of Boulder Junction. The trail here was beautiful.
I was thinking of how much fun I was having and four hours of the ride was just perfect. The last hour, not so much. Back onto Hwy J I was greeted with hills and headwind and an overall lack of energy. At one point my thigh muscles started to cramp, which had never happened to me before. I decided to slow down and fuel and hydrate more and limp it home. I got off my bike and sat down and took a minute to watch my calf muscles twitch uncontrollably. Good times.
I decided to not do the 60-minute run after the bike after watching the twitching going on.
Sunday was beautiful. I had recovered enough from yesterday’s bike ride that I talked myself back into doing a long run after talking myself out of it during the latter portion of yesterday’s bike.
I headed to the Bearskin Trail in downtown Minocqua and before I realized it, I was was crashing a marathon and half-marathon in progress. It was fun to see the runners coming back in with determination on their faces. I ran out seven miles and turned around and headed back. There were spectators cheering me on, as they didn’t realize that I wasn’t in the race. I said, “I’m not in the race, but I love your enthusiasm!”
It wasn’t long and the 3:45 marathon pacer caught up to me as I was walking and taking a gel. He was encouraging everyone to join in, and after telling him that I was on a training run he still wanted me to pace with him. I ran with him chatting about my Ironman and ultra coming up and I then took a detour to avoid the finish line, as I already felt awkward being on the trail with the others. I made it home with an extra mile added due to the detour, making it 15 total miles and some fun memories of running with those runners. Maybe I will join them for real next year.
Time to enjoy some lake lifeone last time before pulling the boat out of the water for the season.
My coworkers are kind people and take a passing interest in what I do outside of work. As I train for my fifth Ironman, it’s pretty obvious at this point that my weekend will be filled with a long bike ride and a long run. This weekend would be no different, but the kicker is that it was going to be hot outside, with temperatures in the 90s. So when my coworker Tracy asked what I was doing this weekend I replied that I was biking for 5.5 hours and running for an hour on Saturday, and running for 2.75 hours on Sunday, with somewhat of a “not too excited to do this” tone in my voice.
Then Tracy went full mom mode – YOU KNOW YOU ARE DOING THAT AT YOUR OWN CHOOSING. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT!
I closed my eyes and shook my head. I almost felt like I was being scolded for doing the things I like to do. Yes, I know that I choose to train for an Ironman, and yes I know that it is hard sometimes, and yes I know that you mere mortals find it somewhat perplexing as to why any of us training for an Ironman would put ourselves through such miserable efforts and give away our weekends doing it. But I choose to do it because I like riding and running (swimming, not so much), and being an Ironman is a goal that I pursue because it empowers me. It changed my life.
Later that evening my family and I met my son Ben and “kind-of daughter-in-law” Emily (just get married already!!!) for a birthday dinner for Ben and I mentioned once again that I was dreading doing my long bike and run this weekend. And although Emily didn’t chastise me as harshly as Tracy did, she said the same damn thing – You know, you choose to do it – or something to that effect.
This time I chuckled, hearing the same admonishment twice in a single day, but what was surprising was that it was coming from Emily, who as a runner herself knows full well what it takes to do amazing things. Maybe the empathy I was expecting and didn’t get was the amusing part for me.
Oh well, I guess nobody cares that I choose to do this dumb sport in an extreme way on a very hot two weekend days. And sometimes the only person to impress worth impressing is me.
Another good ride with Susan on Saturday, and it was pretty much a repeat of last weekend except we both decided to add a little extra, and instead of doing the planned 5.5-hour ride, I ended up doing 6.25 hours and reached 100 miles. I followed up the ride with 6-miles on the treadmill because, well, I’m not dumb. It was insanely warm and humid outside. Smart move and I felt great after that long day.
On Sunday, I parlayed the success of Saturday into Sunday, adding some extra time to the run, running an extra 15 minutes to hit 3-hours. I’m still playing around with a run\walk ratio, and I added 15-seconds to the walk interval. I think that is a pretty good option right now, and I will keep toying with it on my long runs.
On to the dreaded Week 27, which won’t be so dreadful because I pretty much did that week’s workout this weekend. Getting closer to race day and feeling more ready every day.
Every year or so the bank sends us a note about one of the CDs we have sitting in their bank making them money but hardly doing anything for us, and informs us that it’s maturing soon. My wife will say “we should put this into something else and get a better return.” I always reply that I’m good with that. Then in a year, we get the same note telling us that our same CD is maturing again, because WE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT LAST TIME! Then the wife and I will have the same converstation again. It’s pretty funny, actually.
This week my friend Susan, who is also doing IM Choo, was looking for someone to ride with on the Saturday long ride. I didn’t hesitate to offer to ride with her for a couple of reasons. First, I was tired of riding alone and welcomed the company, and secondly, every long ride that I have done recently has ended in me overdoing it and bonking pretty hard at the end. I was getting tired of that, so I decided to ride with Susan, provide her some company, and use her to keep me from riding out of my comfort zone. There was definitely some give and take in this arrangement.
Now Susan is no slouch, she’s an Ironman and a good rider. Both of us have been struggling with the mental aspect of training lately, and the physical aspect of training is partly the cause of that. So I thought why not ride along, enjoy having company and good conversation with someone other than myself for a change. And I’m so glad I did.
We decided to head west toward Elwood, Illinois, and play it by ear as to which direction to go once we got there. I had only been over Route 52 into Elwood once before, and I was glad to have her show me the route to Brandon Road that everyone seems to love doing. It was a nice ride with new things to look at for a change, and I certainly was enjoying that. We turned around at two hours and headed back to the BP to refill our water bottles, and saw some more friends there doing the same thing.
Leaving the gas station, we headed back to the usual route east and Susan wondered where the road we were leaving actually headed. I said, “I KNOW!” and I suggested that we can loop back around that way. Now I had a chance to show her an alternative to always going down Hoff Road. We rode that way back to Elwood, stopped at the BP to refill our bottles once again, and then I decided I needed a bathroom break. The BP staff told me that the bathrooms were unavailable at the moment, so no worries, we hopped on our bikes and rode ten minutes or so back to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery to use the facilities there.
Then the trip home started and I needed to add on a few more minutes so I did, and then worked hard to catch back up with Susan. We rode back to where she parked her car, took a selfie, then I rode home and for the first time in quite a while, finished the ride feeling pretty good. I quickly switched from biking to running gear and followed up the nearly 90-mile ride with a 6.25-mile run. It was so nice not finishing a long Saturday workout and needing several hours of recovery. It was a good day for me.
My friend Chalie was nice to praise me for “helping” Susan with her ride. And even though I would do that for anybody, I was also doing it for myself, to be honest. I realized that sometimes you might have to do something a little different than what you are used to in order to get something better. Change it up and get a better yield.
Maybe I should do something about that CD this time around.
The Sunday long run went pretty well for me, too. I started early to beat the heat of the day, and it wasn’t too bad of a morning. I decided to try using a 5-minute run/1-minute walk interval to see how it went. I’m starting to do these last few long runs in training for IM Choo with a nod to the ultramarathon that I will be attempting in November. It was nice to break-up just straight running with a one minute walk break every five minutes. That produced an average pace just under 10 minutes per mile, and 6 miles per hour. That would be a pretty good pace, but I was running out of gas at the end, mainly due to the heat and the hills as I got closer to home and finishing the 2.5-hour run. I may drop it to a 4:1 ratio and see how that goes. I’m not sure that I can handle the pace needed for a sub-20 hour hundred mile run.
This week, Major League Baseball hosted a “Field of Dreams” game featuring the Chicago White Sox (Go-Go Sox!) vs. the dreaded New York Yankees (suck it, Yankees), and the game didn’t disappoint. Its inspiration came from the 1989 Field of Dreams movie, and the game did its best to recreate the feeling of the narrative. I heartily enjoyed the game, but my kids, having not seen the movie, lacked the same enthusiasm that I did. So that led to watching the movie, of course.
The movie’s purpose for me is about finding what your true purpose is in life, and often I find myself thinking what my purpose is, especially when it comes to training and racing for Ironman. The first time is obviously about seeing if you can do it, the second or third time around it might be about setting a personal best. Subsequent races may just be for a new venue or experience. This go around with training seems to be lacking a purpose. I’m on the struggle bus, as my friend Jan said this week, but sometimes I feel like I’m driving the bus, too. I have a friend who is also struggling with motivation right now and I totally get it. We’re tired of the six-hour workouts on hot and humid Saturdays and giving up our weekends for the training. I tried to offer some sage advice, and I hoped to provide a little incentive to keep going. Maybe encouraging others to be awesome is my purpose.
I often find purpose after the workout, when I’m done and the hay is in the barn, as they say. I like to pat myself on my back for a job well done, even if Saturday’s 5-hour ride/1-hour run brick did end in a bonk and a tough recovery. This last remaining six weeks will be tough, get tougher, then draw back on the intensity a little as we slide into race day. Then I believe the purpose of all the training will be clear. I’m going to be an Ironman. And even if it’s the fifth time for me proving that to myself, I will gladly look back on what I accomplished because no matter how many times I finish, it always feels special.
I was hoping that I wouldn’t be too beat up after running my first 50K last weekend, and the heat and humidity took a little bit of a toll again on Tuesday. We had some storms on Wednesday, which forced me inside and gave me a different perspective on my typical Wednesday workout. Thursday was back outside for a ride. But we got relief from the hot weather on Friday and I just clicked on a 1.5-hour run. That went real well and led into some even nicer weather for the weekend. I struggled a little on Saturday, as I mentioned above, but Sunday’s 14.5-mile long run was great. I seemed to bounce back pretty quickly.
I need to spend a little more attention to swimming, as I only got in one swim this week, but Chattanooga’s swim is very forgiving, and I’m not all that worried about it.
Here’s to some better fall weather on the horizon, and six more weeks of self-discovery until race day. Keep moving forward!