Tunnel Hill 100 Training Update

I signed up for the Tunnel Hill 100 mile ultramarathon without much forethought. If I’m good for anything it’s not thinking things through. But seeing that I was training for Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021 and doing the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing event in August, I figured that the training load for Ironman and running 50K at the Big Hill Bonk would prepare me well for Tunnel Hill in November. I may have figured wrong. But we’ll see. There’s still plenty of weeks of training to go, and I’m sure I may see some improvements in endurance running as I creep closer to the ultra.


I saw a post on Facebook recently that asked what was harder, an Ironman or a 100-mile ultra, and the answers were interesting. In terms of the race itself, most declared that running 100 miles in a day was much tougher than completing an Ironman. But many also agreed that the training for Ironman was much harder than what people do to train for an ultra. I was troubled and glad to hear both of those responses.


I’m a little concerned that the run training that I am doing for Ironman is not going to be sufficient to get me to that 100-mile finish. I only got through 50K at Big Hill Bonk before tapping out. Maybe if the finish 4.16 miles in one-hour time constraint wasn’t in play there, I might have walked more and gone a little further. That time/distance format is a good indicator or predictor for an ultra as 4.16 miles in one hour will net you 100 miles in 24 hours. I was able to get a third of it in.


On my 2.5-hour training run today, I played with using run/walk intervals for the first time. I had played with that Galloway method probably twenty years ago, but I found that I would essentially pace way too fast for the run portion and not walk leisurely enough in the walk portion. I gave up on it and just went with what I knew best, running by feel and keeping an even pace.


I tried running for five minutes and then walking for one minute. That 5:1 ratio was working pretty well for me and I was averaging 10 min/mile pace, which nets a 20-hour 100 miler. When I turned around at 75 minutes I was at 7.75 miles, and by the time I finished the 2.5 hours I only netted 15 miles and felt pretty worn out. Not enough nutrition? Was the day warming up too much? Were the hills at the end causing me to slow down? Maybe, sure, all of the above, I dunno.


To do 100 miles in 20 hours you need to hit five miles every hour, and I did that today. Maybe if I run the 5:1 ratio until I hit five miles, I could have more time to walk out the remaining minutes of the hour. I will give that a go next time. I’m also considering lowering the ratio to four minutes of running and one minute of walking and see how that goes. There is still time to play with the run:walk ratio.


Thoughts of dropping down to the 50-mile ultra have been entering my head, but I’m not giving up just yet. I just need to dial it in a little better and see where it takes me.

Yielding a Better Return

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 25 – August 22, 2021 

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 creepy old guy and Susan. I’ll let Susan take the photos from now on.  All smiles after 5+hours of riding.  Thanks for letting me join you, Susan!

~~~

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.

Swims: 2 – 3030 yards

Rides: 3 – 135 miles

Runs: 5 – 41.5 miles

Field of Dreams

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 24 – August 15, 2021 

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.  

We have corn in Illinois, too. Just taking a moment to see if Shoeless Joe will walk out of the corn. Just kidding, I was urinating. Field of “Streams.”  And damn, when did I get so old?!

 

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!

Swims: 1 – 1500 yards

Rides: 3 – 128 miles

Runs: 3 – 40.5 miles

Big Hill Bonk – 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.

An Easy Week?

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 23 – August 8, 2021 

Last week I swapped Week 22 for Week 23 of the training plan so I could have an easy week leading up to Friday and my first attempt at an ultramarathon at the Big Hill Bonk – Wisconsin’s Backyard Ultra in Beloit, Wisconsin.  Thank goodness for that because the ultra was certainly a challenge for me.  The race recap follows this blog post.  I’ll be back with my usual pontificating about training next week.

So the easy Ironman training week ended with somewhat of a hard effort of running through the hills of Beloit and Big Hill Park.  Here are this weeks stats, which includes the long run on Friday/Saturday:

Swims: 2 – 3000 yards

Rides: 2 – 32 miles

Runs: 3 – 44 miles

 

My Coach Wife

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 22 – August 1, 2021 

I saw a post the other day on one of the triathlon groups I follow on Facebook and he asked if anyone else had a “coach wife” and I knew immediately what he was alluding to.  And I have the best coach wife in the business.

I’m not sure Kari intended to be a coach wife, she just kind of had the position forced upon her.  After watching me train and do races she just kind of learned about running and triathlon from the sidelines.  After I crashed and burned in the 2009 Rockford Marathon (3:43), which I ran alone without her or other family being there, it resulted in me taking a trip to the local hospital for an i.v. and a long walk of shame back to where I parked my car.  She swore after that happened that I would not be doing these things on my own anymore.

As I train for my fifth Ironman she is inquisitive about what I’m doing, especially on the weekend.  The other day she inquired about how long my Saturday bike would be and I said that I thought it was four hours.  “Again?  You’ve done the four-hour ride the past three weekends.”  I admitted that I was using a spreadsheet of the plan that my buddy Jeff shared with me, so I thought it could be a typo, but after checking the plan in the book, sure enough, the plan has three, four-hour rides in a row.  It is interesting how she picked up on that and I was just taking it for granted that it was correct.

Kari also began running and biking, and has learned even more about the sports and what they involve.  The funny thing is, she never asks about my input.  

Last night when I was turning in for the night, I looked at my watch as I laid it on the nightstand and wondered aloud if its 44% battery would be enough to get me through my planned five-hour ride.  Coach Kari immediately spoke up and said “Why don’t you just charge it?” knowing full well that my charge cord for it is right there next to the nightstand.  I didn’t debate with her or hesitate about it for even a second, I just grabbed the cord and plugged it in.  

There are numerous other examples, but in reality, it’s just her way of showing that she cares about me and my dumb adventures.  And I’m very glad to have a coach wife – make that the best coach wife ever.  

Cutest Coach Wife Ever!

~~~

I decided to swap Week 22 of the plan for Week 23 because I am doing the Big Hill Bonk – Last Runner Standing event next weekend and I wanted to take advantage of a taper week that Week 22 had in it.  

I started the week off pretty good, doing an open water swim with my coworker buddy Tom in Lake Michigan at Ohio Street Beach, Chicago.  It was a well-run event by Lifetime Fitness/Chicago Triathlon.  Tom got some great experience in some big, open water and also some well-earned confidence in being able to swim in those kinds of conditions.  I made him try my large Xterra wetsuit and I think that was a good experience as well.  He may do better in an XL, as he has more muscle than I ever will.  

A happy Tom after a great OWS in Lake Michigan.

 

On Thursday I got sick with some sort of stomach bug and it was bad.  Kari thinks I am ignoring a bigger GI issue, but it was just a stomach bug.  And the two things that come hand in hand with a stomach bug wiped me out.  I was not doing well.  But it ran its course in about a day, and I used Friday as a rest day to rehydrate and recover.  I was concerned that the planned five-hour ride on Saturday would be too much, so I swapped it with Sunday and things worked out well.  I’m still needed to stay on top of hydration, but I’m doing better.  

On to the Big Hill Bonk and running infinite 4.166-mile loops for as long as I can!

Swims: 1 – 1650 yards

Rides: 3 – 120 miles

Runs: 4 – 28 miles

 

Rub Some Dirt On It

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 21 – July 25, 2021 

I was riding with Tom, my buddy from work who is training for his first half-iron distance triathlon race. He shared a story with me about this character on a show called “Eastbound & Down,” about a washed-up former baseball player named Kenny Powers taking a job as a teacher or something. The principal introduces himself as quite the athlete as well and was training for a triathlon, which he seems to think that Kenny knows all about that and Kenny replies that he doesn’t because he plays real sports and isn’t trying to be the best at exercising. Hilarious.

Old Kenny reminds me of most coaches from my youth who would tell you to rub some dirt on it and walk it off if you got injured no matter how serious the injury was. Well, as we were coming back home on our almost 4-hour ride and had about an hour and a half of riding to go, Tom hit a patch of gravel on a turn, and down he went. He literally rubbed some dirt on it, and in it. His hands were chewed up pretty good and it did not look like a fun injury. I had mentioned in an earlier conversation that morning about wearing cycling gloves to A.) alleviate any pain from holding the handlebars, and B.) to keep your hands from getting messed up if you crash. I guess it doesn’t help to add to his pain to mention that fact again. To his credit and my astonishment, Tom picked himself up, assessed his injuries, and decided to tough it out and continue the ride home with bloody and throbbing palms. Tell me that isn’t impressive, Kenny.

As I ended my ride on that very hot and humid day, I still had 45-minutes of running to do. I put on some less sweat-soaked running attire, grabbed some water, and headed out for my run. As I passed the park at the beginning of the run I saw some young men just starting to play basketball and thought nothing of it. But when I returned one of them was vomiting into the trash can. It was interesting to me that I had just completed four hours of cycling and another 45-minutes of running and this kid couldn’t handle a short game of tossing a ball into the hoop and jogging back and forth.

Back in the mid to late twentieth century, they used to say that bowling and golf were the two most popular participation sports in America. I bet that they might not even make the list today. I’m not really sure what the most popular sport to participate in is today, but if I had to guess I would say it is running. I would be shocked if it wasn’t running. Even the other sports that are popular, almost all of them involve running. Most might guess the usual football, baseball, basketball sports would dominate the list, but really, you play those games as a kid in local rec leagues, maybe into high school, rarely in college, almost never professionally, and as an adult, c’mon man, you haven’t played football as an adult ever. When you get old you run for exercise. And if you like it and stick with it you run for sport. Finishing that first 5K or marathon or any race and the sense of accomplishment is just as awesome as getting a hit every fourth-time at-bat. You might want to practice more if you wanted to stay in the big leagues, Kenny.

I hate to disrespect any type of sport. They’re popular for a reason. The professionals make it look easy, and the moments I spent coaching and watching my kids play baseball and soccer were some of my greatest memories. But I don’t like having my sport and the athletes like Tom, who came from football and is quickly learning that swimming, cycling, and running isn’t so easy, dissing triathlon. So if you stick-and-ball guys think that our sport isn’t worthy or as hard as yours, come give ours a try. Tom will have some scars to prove to you that it isn’t so easy, and I bet we would garner some respect from you.

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Come ask Tom if this sport is easy.

Swims: 2 – 3000 yards

Rides: 3 – 108 miles

Runs: 5 – 41 miles

Fear, Part… III

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 20 – July 18, 2021 

There seems to be a lot of fear in triathlon. I totally get it as I had those fears as well. My fear was really about overcoming my lack of swimming ability, as well as fearing swimming in open water, mainly due to the aforementioned lack of swimming ability.

But there are so many different kinds of fears. Swimming is probably at the top of the list for most. Whether it be the open water thing, or swimming in water in which you can’t see anything, or the fact that there may be fish swimming in the water with you. Listen you fish-fearing swimmers, they don’t want anything to do with you. And my goodness, some can’t stand to touch any sort of weed that may be growing underwater. I may roll my eyes at that stuff, but I really have no inclination to do any triathlon in the ocean. Yeah, there are jellyfish and sharks in the ocean, and I can go about living a life not having swum a triathlon swim in the ocean, thank you very much.

And the bike is not without fear. When I first started riding and bought a road bike right after college, I took a ride down a busy four-lane road in Northbrook, Illinois. It scared the crap out of me and I decided to stick with running from then on. 20+ years later I found myself riding some more, most often riding on local bike trails. But as I got serious about riding, I found that the trails were full of idiots on bikes who don’t give a flying fig about the rules or being courteous to other trail users. So that pushed me onto the road, a place where I figured it was just a matter of time before some car ran me over. Fortunately, the roads by me are fairly rural farm roads with very little traffic and I eventually overcame my fears of being on the roads with cars.

Other bike phobias include being “clipped” into the pedals, which for most beginners and experienced riders alike will likely result in not being able to remember to unclip yourself from the pedal when stopping and falling over. I’ve done it several times, usually when people are around to see it happen. It’s quite embarrassing. Riding in aero on a tri bike is another fear for some. I have two friends (yes, you know who you are!) who recently bought tri bikes and have yet to ride them outside. I think their fear is that it handles a little differently, or maybe the reaction time to move their hands from the aero bars to the brakes might make them nervous. I’m not sure, but I get it. It doesn’t take much to fear something that you aren’t used to, especially something that is going 20 mph two feet from the gravel shoulder of the road.

Other fears can sometimes be silly. Some fear looking stupid in the tri suit. I have to admit that along with swimming, the little tight pants and the tight top that would have made me look really silly kept me out of triathlon for a long, long time. You have to toss modesty out the door if you are going to be a triathlete. And honestly, no one really cares how you look.

There are some that are afraid that they won’t be able to finish. This one keeps many people out of triathlon, especially the long Iron-distance stuff. These are people who haven’t done a lick of training but are convinced that no amount of training would get them there. I was in this camp. I used to watch the yearly Ironman special on television in the ’80s and ’90s and think how impossible that must be. I knew that my lack of swimming would prevent me from even trying. How does anyone swim 2.4 miles?! I thought it was impossible.

Some are afraid of finishing last. That one cracks me up. Do you know what they call the last place finisher in an Ironman? An Ironman. And if you have ever witnessed the closing minutes of an Ironman, those that are finishing last are the most cheered for and celebrated of all who competed that day. Just Google “last Ironman finisher” and you’ll see several examples. Or just watch this:

https://youtu.be/UVxhiZorh-E

For runners, it seems lack of speed or having to walk is a fear. My goodness, walking is done by just about everyone in an Ironman.

There are so many more examples of fear in this sport. But it all seems to boil down to a lack of familiarity or a lack of trying. As I rode more on roads I became much more at ease with it. So much more that I now feel safer on the roads I ride than the trails I use to get to the roads. And my fear of swimming was more of not knowing how to swim than just thinking that I couldn’t do it. Once I took the time to learn, and believe me it was a slow process, I conquered those fears I had about swimming.

So if you are having some fears about triathlon, don’t be afraid to face your fears. Take that new aero bike for a few spins around the block and get comfortable on it, then come out and join the group ride on the fancy new speed mobile. Have a friend take you to a lake and help you get comfortable in open water. Put on that new tri suit and let it make you feel fast. You are only fearing things that you have not yet tried. Give tri a try and get rid of those fears!

~~~

This wraps up Week 20 for me. Ten weeks to go. If you ever want to see your summer evaporate in a blink of an eye, start training for a race. It goes by so quickly. This week was pretty good. I took on an off-road sprint triathlon and did well enough to finish 22nd overall and third in my age group. Lots of great competition and racing off-road was a new challenge for me. I had a lot of fun.

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The Forge Off-road Triathlon Race Report

I’m still dealing with some left foot nerve pain. It’s not as bad as before on the bike because I adjusted my cleat and added some extra cushion to the shoe, but it is now happening with running which was never the case before. It makes me nervous because I have a lot of triathlon and running goals this year. I may have to seek some treatment for it.

I seem to be entering the always hungry stage of training. Well, I am always hungry anyway, but now I’m doing a lot more snacking. It kind of ticks me off that I have to train hard for 20 weeks to lose the 10 pounds that I gained in the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Since I decided to race on Saturday, I pushed the four-hour Saturday ride to Sunday and will more than likely do the two-hour run I missed on Sunday tomorrow. I always opt to do the long bike because I feel it’s the most important aspect in training for an Ironman. But I have some ultra marathon goals this year and I don’t want to miss out on getting that training done.

I saw this cool display on my bike ride and had to stop and take a picture:

So it’s on to the last third of the training plan, the dreaded endurance phase. But I have nothing to fear because I have been down this road four times before. Bring it on, endurance phase!

Swims: 3 – 3587 yards

Rides: 4 – 115 miles

Runs: 4 – 18 miles

The Forge Off-road Triathlon Race Report

When:  07/17/2021

Where:  The Forge – Lemont, Illinois

Distance:  Off-road Sprint – 14 miles total: ~ 500 yard SWIM, ~ 10.5 mile BIKE, ~ 3 mile RUN

Results:  1:14:56 – 22/203 Overall, 17/108 Male, 11/56 Male +40, 3/16 Male 50-59

Results Link: https://www.athlinks.com/event/356249/results/Event/977670/Course/2091242/Results

First time racing a triathlon since Ironman Chattanooga in 2019! It seemed a little different, but all things considered it was just like I remembered it.

I was a little apprehensive about this race. Any first-ever race, especially one that is not governed by USA Triathlon, can raise a red flag for me. But as more information kept coming I realized that the race director wasn’t a first-timer, and in the end it was a really well run event.

The Forge is a small to medium sized adventure style park located next to the old Illinois and Michigan Canal and the Lemont Quarries, where stone was mined to help build and then rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire. Lots of old quarries located in the Lemont, Lockport and Joliet areas. The park has zip lines, climbing walls, pump tracks and paths for cycling, and utilizes one of the quarries for swimming and kayaking. Lemont is a nearby community and when a link to this race was shared on a page I follow, I decided to give it a go. Okay, on to the race!

Getting up at 4 am is never easy, but I got up, ate, and then I drove to Lemont and parked at the Lemont High School parking lot, as the participant guide indicated that parking was limited at the Forge and it was really easy to park at the school and ride my bike to the park. Once that I got there, I found the rack for my bike and got my transition all set up.

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After setting up I had some time to kill, so I walked to the swim start and exit, and walked back to transition to see where bike and run in/out were located.  I jogged down the bike trail a little while to burn off some anxious energy and then used the bathroom and headed back to get my swim stuff.

The Swim – 11:28  

I had swam on Friday and had a really good workout.  Felt really strong and had no issues.  I’m not sure why I couldn’t duplicate that here but I couldn’t.  I was slow, felt like I couldn’t get enough air, and seemingly couldn’t get it under control.  I was getting passed by a lot of other swimmers, but I finally settled in.  Fortunately, the swim wasn’t long and I was out of the water soon enough.

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Jump off the dock, head left and swim around the turn buoys. Seemed simple enough. 

I had planned for a non-wetsuit swim as the race director had said several times that the water temps had been high and that we should plan to swim without a wetsuit.  Turns out, Friday night and Saturday morning were cool and it was wetsuit legal.  I hadn’t even brought the thing.  I kind of wish I had, but nothing I could do about it.  There were only a handful of triathletes wearing them.  I would have thought that the quarry would have been really deep, but there were several places where I could easily see bottom, and there were times where my hand was actually touching the weedy stuff growing in the water.  I was in 76th place overall after that miserable swim.

T1 – 2:08 – Coming out of the water we had a thin, green outdoor carpet covering rocks, but I’m such a tenderfoot that it was a struggle for me.  Then we hit the crushed limestone and I didn’t really enjoy that either, but eventually we got into transition where there was more carpet covering grass.  I quickly grabbed my water bottle and rinsed off my feet and then made a decision that I later regretted – I decided to go sockless on the bike.  I never do that but I didn’t want to wrestle socks onto two wet feet.  22nd overall fastest through T1.

The Bike – 37:52 – I had biked on Thursday and I thought that I could probably push close to 20 mph average on race day.  Boy was that wrong.  I ended up averaging about 17 mph, but it wasn’t for lack of trying to go faster.  The course was new to me, and there were lots of slower riders ahead of me.  But the thing that really affected my overall speed was the numerous sharp turns, as well as a few hairpin turns thrown in for fun.  It was a difficult course, and even though there was a no passing mandate on a portion in which there was two-way riding on a six foot wide path, there was plenty of passing going on.  But from the moment when my butt hit the seat, I was gunning hard and passing lots of the faster swimmers.  I never got passed on the bike, and ended up with the 24th best bike split.

T2 – 1:25 – What I thought was a super fast transition from bike to run, it turns out I was pretty slow compared to the others.  This is also where I realized how dumb it is to go sockless.  My cycling shoe had worn the skin off a small spot on the top of my foot.  Needless to say, I put on my socks for the run and won’t be going sockless ever again.  The results had my T2 split at a questionable 164th place.  Really?  That surprises me because I thought I had done pretty well.  But I guess having to put on socks is what killed my time.

The Run – 22:04 – Grabbing my visor and bib belt, I bolted out of T2 without yet putting them on, and I was on the trail for what is my strong suit – the run.  I passed three very fit triathletes by 1/4 mile into it and was feeling great.  I just kept motoring along, passing numerous other runners.  I came up on one woman at the turn around who knew what was about to happen and stepped aside to let me go by.  I thanked her and started trying to catch the next runner.  Soon I saw another woman heading toward the turn around and I thought to myself that I bet she overtakes me soon.  

Somewhere after the 2 mile marker, the course veered off the I&M Canal trail and headed onto a park trail.  There was a hill and the volunteer standing there said “You’re welcome.”  I said “I’m walking this damn thing.”  And I walked up it.  It was steep, but what goes up quickly came down as we meandered through the portion of the Forge where they have climbing apparatus and zip lining stuff.  There were some pretty steep rocky stairs that I had to run down, but they weren’t too technical.  Back up a couple more hills and it was back the the trail and over to where we had to pass the finish line and do a quick 1/4 mile out and back to the finish.  The out portion was where the woman who I figured would pass me finally did.  We went around the cone together, but she hit the gas and I couldn’t match her pace.  I had the 16th fastest run split for the day and moved myself up to 22nd overall.  

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I cooled down, grabbed a banana and some water, put on a dry shirt, and kicked back by the quarry to wait for the rest of the triathletes to finish.  The scrolling results on the projected screen would only show overall place and not age group place, so I had to wait until the awards to find out if I had placed.  When the announcer announced my time first I started heading for the stage.  I was slightly surprised at 3rd place in my age group, but I was glad to take home the award, even if it was an odd carabiner clip thing attached to a chunk of wood.  I think I prefer medals.  The Old Guy age group seems to be the most competitive group out there.  16 of the top 25 were over 40 years old, and most of the rest were in their thirties.  Only two of the top 25 were under 30 years old, a 19 year old and a 29 year old.  

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Conclusion – The Forge Off-Road Triathlon was a fun event.  It was different to have to actually think about riding on a course like this, instead of just hammering along in aero on my tri bike.  I would do this one again, and would recommend it to anyone thinking about hitting the trails for the bike and run instead of what we normally race on.  

Thanks for reading!

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

2021 IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA TRAINING

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WEEK 19 – July 11, 2021 

My in-laws have been staying with us this past couple of weeks and my father-in-law’s cellphone ringtone is the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which is a pretty good metaphor for training this week. First up… 

The Good

Coming off a pretty easy week which ended in four straight rest days, I was hoping for a week of training that would feel pretty good. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. The legs felt strong, and the efforts weren’t killing me.

I joined the Saturday group ride and coaxed my coworker Tom into joining me. I planned to ride with Tom regardless, but when the fastest of the usual riders showed up, I knew that I wouldn’t be pushing myself to join in with their crazy tempo. Tom and I had a great ride out to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and back. We split apart at about two hours as Tom headed back and I needed to extend the ride another two hours. Saturday called for rain, but fortunately, it held off, stayed a cool day, and I was able to ride for a little more than 70 miles and then have a decent 30-minute post-ride run.  

The Bad

I have been dealing with some numbness in my left foot when riding my bike to the point of it being somewhat painful. It’s a little embarrassing to have this pain because I felt like I knew how to deal with it, but the way I dealt with it in the past wasn’t working this time. No matter how I adjusted the cleat on my cycling shoe, I wasn’t getting any relief. I added a piece of foam padding under the insert of the shoe and it seemed to make it a little more bearable on Saturday’s ride, so I will continue to adjust that until I find some relief. The troubling aspect of it though is that it has also been carrying over to my running. The shoes I run in have about 250 miles on them but don’t really feel worn out. On Sunday’s 10-mile run, I broke out a new pair of running shoes, and although the pain was much less it wasn’t gone. I’ll give it some time.

Sunday I was determined not to miss breakfast. I have been missing out on pancakes and sausage/bacon on the weekends too often because of training and I wasn’t settling for that on Sunday. As usual, Kari’s pancakes were outstanding, and I left feeling very satisfied. But I think it affected my run a little as I was somewhat laboring through the first four miles or so. Whatever. The pancakes were outstanding.

It was the swim for me this week that was the main “bad” part of training. On Thursday, I attempted a swim after pushing pretty hard through a bike ride. I was getting some cramps in my calves on the ride, so I decided that this swim would need the pull buoy to take kicking out of the equation. It didn’t matter because about 10-minutes into the swim my left calf cramped up with one of the worst Charley Horse-type cramps that I can remember. I pulled the plug on the swim and limped around on a sore calf for the rest of the day. I already do the bare minimum for swimming just putting in two 30-minute swims a week, so maybe it’s time to rethink that. I may move swimming to the off-day Monday to remove it from a post-run or post-bike workout during the week. Maybe an hour-long swim with some drills and intervals added may be a better idea. I don’t like swimming.

The Ugly

During the group ride, we had to deal with a jerk in a minivan. Apparently, he couldn’t stand being inconvenienced for a few seconds by some cyclists. He hit the gas, squealed his tires, beeped his horn, and tore off around us like we should not be on his road. People can really suck sometimes. He’ll get his karma someday. Hopefully sooner rather than later. I ride with a front and rear flashing light/camera device. Here are the videos:

From my rear camera

From the front camera

Swims: 1 – 510 yards

Rides: 3 – 109 miles

Runs: 5 – 32 miles