WausaUltra Backyard Ultra Race Report

When: Friday, April 29, 2022

Where: Sylvan Hill Park, Wausau, Wisconsin

Race Format: Backyard Ultra, 4.167-mile loops/yards every hour

Results: Officially a DNF – 5 loops/yards, 20.8 miles – 30th out of 36 starters.

Website Link: https://www.wausaultra.com/backyard

2022 WausaUltra Backyard Race Report

I have to start by saying thanks to WausaUltra, the race directors, the staff, and the volunteers for hosting such a great event. Everything was well done. They made everyone feel welcome and became our biggest fans, even if we only made a handful of yards. They made me feel like I had a slim chance of winning. Ha!

On Facebook, the staff was welcoming everyone who had signed up with a short video and I was a little surprised at my welcome, as the guy thought that being 58 years old and doing this event was an amazing feat. Listen up, whippersnapper! I’m not old!

I drove to Wausau on Thursday afternoon and took a look around. I wanted to make sure I knew how to get there, and also know how long the drive would be from Minocqua.

Friday morning I got around and made it to the park in plenty of time to get set up. I opted for my one-man pop-up tent just because it would be easier to set up and tear down. The runners started trickling in and you could start to feel the excitement. This group seemed to be pretty serious about going deep into the event.

I set my little tent up right near the finish area to limit my walking.

We heard the 3-minute warning just before 10 am and everyone made their way to the corral for the start. The weather was cool, and there was no rain for now. It was shaping up to be a good day.

The start is somewhat anti-climatic as the first twenty yards after the pavilion area was very wet, and the road quickly became a hill. So there was no bolting out of the chute, we walked it.

Looking at the start/finish area.

I ran the first yard to get the lay of the land and then took my phone along for the second one to snap some photos. The first part of the course was crushed granite road and trail and was uphill. All uphill portions were walked.

Feeling pretty good early into the second yard.
After a short switchback, we were at the top of the sledding hill and had to choose our line. I preferred to be to the left, but that meant bending under a steel tow line a couple of times. It was less wet on the left side.
Upon getting to the bottom of the sledding hill, we made a turn through some very soft ground and had to climb this hill before climbing up an adjacent sledding hill. The guy with the red vest was the eventual winner. He wasted no use less energy on the course. Ran only when he needed to.
After getting up the hill again we wandered around and then had to descend this hill that fortunately had a very soft footing. It was like running on a hill of mulch.
After coming down the hill we had to cross some wet ground. Fortunately, the race staff had placed some stones here for us. Still trying to figure out if it was a good thing. I’m the last in line in this photo.
Photo credit: WausaUltra Facebook page
My favorite part of this course was this flat portion through the woods. Go figure.
My least favorite portion of the course was up there, a grassy portion near the local high school athletic fields. It was much cooler/breezier up there.
By far the most challenging part of the course were the sections of trail that were rocky. It took some serious concentration to get through these downhills. One misstep could really mess you up.
The race staff made a great effort to be all over the course to get photos and videos.
Some well-placed wooden bridges over some wetland areas. This is the section that would later end my day.
This gravel section led to another short hill just before the finish line.

So that is the course in pictures, which show what we dealt with better than I could explain it. It was a challenging course for sure.

The first few loops went pretty well, but I still struggled with sweating too much. It was tough to balance it because it was very cool in the higher parts of the course and warm on the climbs and lower parts. I eventually ended up shedding the pants I started with and swapped my trail shoes out for my regular running shoes for some additional toe space.

My big mistake however, was not taking in enough hydration and electrolytes. I don’t know why I have this dialed in so well for an Ironman but can be clueless when attempting these backyard events.

The fifth yard became my nemesis. I was giving some consideration as to how many more yards I could get through, and figured that I would attempt at least 2-3 more. But I started to get some hamstring and calf cramping here and there toward mile three and I wasn’t so sure anymore. When I came to the little wooden bridge section in the latter part of the 3rd mile of the fifth yard I wasn’t worried about it at all – it wasn’t technical, nor really anything that you had to concentrate all that hard about. But my tired legs must have kept my foot from clearing something and I tripped, falling flat onto the boards and bouncing into the moist dirt next to it. It happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to really catch or brace myself. I hit pretty hard and was almost in shock by it. I struggled to get myself up, as I now found myself cramping pretty badly. I knew I had to get to my feet and keep moving. That’s when I got very light-headed and quickly grabbed a tree to keep from falling again. After a brief moment I was able to collect myself and start walking again, taking an assessment of the damage I had done. I had a scraped knee and a cartoon-sized bump on my left forearm, but other than that I wasn’t in any significant pain.

As I made the last little uphill climb to the finish area, a guy standing there asked if I was okay. I told him that I fell and he went and told the staff. I made it to the finish and told the others there that I had banged myself up. Staffer Ellen was kind enough to get me an ice bag for my swollen arm and bandaged up my knee. I was advised that I still had about five minutes left to get ready for the next loop, but I told them there was no way. My two or three more yards estimate was immediately quashed as soon as I got up from that fall. I decided right there and then that I would not push my luck. Had I fallen on those rocks it could have really messed me up, and I wasn’t prepared to go back out there being behind on my hydration and energy.

Sitting in my tent, nursing my wounds.

I let the 3-2-1 minute countdown pass and stood and watched the others parade by. My day was done. I went over and rang the DNF bell of shame and then began the two hour packing up process to head home. Five yards, and a little more than 20 miles. It was less than I was expecting to do, but not too bad for this difficult course. The day sure made for a great and memorable experience.

I may be a DNF, but I added some trophies to the collection.

NOTES FOR NEXT TIME

  • This was a very technical course. I need to practice that type of terrain more.
  • Running downhill wasn’t too bad here, but it always wears my quads out quickly. Maybe add some leg press strength work or run more downhills in training.
  • Get that nutrition/hydration/electrolytes figured out.
  • Make sure my wife is there to help me! It was tough without a crew member.

I really enjoyed this event and I will definitely be back in the future. Thanks for reading!

Big Hill Bonk 2022 – Wisconsin’s Backyard Ultra Race Report

When: Friday, April 1, 2022

Where:  Big Hill Park – Beloit, Wisconsin

Distance: Ten 4.166 mile yards (loops) for a total of 41.6 miles

Results: For the second year in a row I am a DNF, as well as 29 others, with Jon Noll once again taking the win and making it look easy.

Results Link: Big Hill Bonk 2022 Results

BIG HILL BONK – WISCONSIN’S BACKYARD ULTRA – LAST RUNNER STANDING RACE REPORT

April Fool’s Day can be cruel and fun at the same time, and since the second running of the Big Hill Bonk happened to occur on April 1st, thirty-one runners including myself set out to do some foolhardy running through the woods of Beloit, Wisconsin. Foolish as it may seem to run an unknown and unlimited amount of 4.167-mile trips around the park, it was also a ton of fun. April Fool’s Day treated us to a cold morning start, and a campsite with an inch of snow on the ground to place our tents upon, but that didn’t seem to bother any of us. The day would stay sunny all day long and warm up to the mid-forties providing a mostly comfortable day of running.

Kari and I set up our tent and I made my way into the Welty Center to check in and get my bib and swag. I said hello to the race director Tyler, made my way over to the table, and was greeted by Tyler’s dad, who knew my name and said he loved reading my blog posts about training for last year’s race. I’m always surprised when someone tells me they have read my blog. It wouldn’t be the last time I was greeted with “you’re the guy with the blog!” A travel coffee mug with the Big Hill Bonk on it was the swag in place of a t-shirt this year, and I gladly filled it up with some warm coffee and made my way back to the tent to get off my feet and keep warm, thanks to a little propane-fueled camp heater I picked up just for this occasion.

I believe I was one of three who had run the 2021 inaugural edition of the Big Hill Bonk to return for some more “fun” in 2022. Of course, the other two returning runners were last year’s winner Jon, and another runner named Zac, who would be the one to make sure Jon didn’t have a walk in the park win this time around. There were a couple of other significant differences between the 2021 event and this one. First, 2021 was held in August and started at 5:30 pm. This year it was moved to April, the race director Tyler’s personal preference, and we started at 10 am. So nine out of the ten yards I did was done with daylight, and I barely needed the headlamp on the last yard. It was also much colder, which I think helped prevent me from overheating and getting somewhat dehydrated like I did last year, although I was still sweating and couldn’t find a comfortable amount of layers. It was much warmer at the bottom of the course than it was at the top, and I would overheat walking up the Big Hill. Then when we hit the road for the last mile, the cold breeze was in our face and made for a slightly uncomfortable finish to the yard. Since there was snow on the ground when we began the event, I jokingly told Tyler that I was circulating a petition to get it moved back to August. But as the race progressed I’m not sure what time of year I prefer to run this type of event. I think I have more experience managing myself in the heat than the cold. It’s easier, too. Just one layer – no hats, gloves, extra pants, or other things to keep me warm.

ONTO THE YARDS

As we heard the first three whistles, letting us know that the race would begin in three minutes, we all started to stir and made our way to the starting area. I met a young man named Blair who advised that he had read my blog to gain some insight about this event. I took an immediate liking to Blair and I would spend almost the entirety of my yards running with him. We had some great conversations about ultra-running. It also helped that we were running at roughly the same pace. I was enjoying not only Blair’s company, but there were plenty of others to enjoy conversations with this time around.

Snow covered the ground for the first few yards, then it was gone. This is the first yard.

Finishing the first yard. Not sure if the people recording the splits remembered to do it for this lap, but we came in around 48 minutes. We had already started to shed layers.

Last year everyone seemed to be more serious and less talkative. A couple of ladies named Stefanie and Kerri would strike up a bond and provide a lot of positive energy for the rest of us. I asked them on one of the yards if they had known each other beforehand. Nope, they met that day and were instant pals. I loved seeing the others finding the right group for themselves. It was an eclectic group for sure. There was a guy wearing a yellow and blue jacket, who had to lead every lap and finish each lap before everyone else. Not always the best tactic in this kind of event, but he seemed determined to own that. Another guy wore just a singlet and shorts, while the rest of us had on a few layers. There was a guy who ran in sandals, which is something I could never do. Another entrant was a kid who looked about 15-years old, but I learned was 18. He was a machine and made each yard look like it was nothing. I think that I was the oldest entrant, most of the others were well under 40. The only other guy in his 50’s was very consistent with his effort and was locked in. He outlasted me.

The first yard was done with snow covering the ground, but I somehow avoided getting wet shoes/feet. By the third yard, the snow would be gone for the most part, with the exception being a few areas in the woods shaded from the sun. The most technical part of the course is the descent from the top of the hillside down toward the path that would lead to the lowest part of the course. It was a little muddy and slippery, and I had seen some muddy legs from a few runners who may have slipped on this portion of the course. I took my time on it, as losing my footing would have meant a pretty good tumble down the hill. Some of the runners commented on how they weren’t expecting the obstacles that we had to get over and around, but I think they all found the course to be a lot of fun.

As we came to the finish line of the first yard, everyone pretty much started shedding the layers that they had overestimated needing. I was certainly in that group. I took the windbreaker off and went to a thinner pair of gloves. One guy had said that he was switching to just a t-shirt. But figuring out the right combination of layers and clothing was one of the harder things to figure out for the day. One runner had doubled up on running tights and was stripping down to just a single layer after the first yard. I’d start slightly cool, but at about a mile into the run we would head up a steep hill and I would get warm. The lowest portion of the course was the warmest, thanks to the namesake Big Hill shielding us from the wind coming from the west. Getting up the hill and onto the road for the last mile back into the finish area was the coolest, and I often wished I had another layer at that point.

I switched out tops three times, about every third yard, because I was pretty sweaty. I also switched from my trail shoes to my road shoes. The trail had firmed up quite nicely and I wasn’t worrying about slipping. The trail shoes were a half-size small and were starting to bruise my big toe.

In regard to hydration and nutrition, I think I handled it a little bit better this year. I had a decent breakfast at the hotel around 7 am, and I saw an opportunity to use the heater I bought to not only warm up the tent but to toast a Pop-Tart, which I promptly ate just before the start. I had purchased a Jimmy John’s roast beef sandwich on Thursday and was able to eat about three 2-inch sliced portions of it throughout the day. I snacked on potato chips, pretzels, a Payday bar, and yogurt in addition to eating some GU gel every lap. I also downed some Gatorade and a Lipton Brisk Raspberry Tea for the caffeine. Blair had said that he was sticking primarily with liquid nutrition, but that is never enough for me. The young kid was eating a banana often and I was kicking myself for not having a few on hand.

As for the rest of the yards, I will summarize: The day warmed up, the whistles blew, we lined up and went again, occasionally someone would drop, the guy in the yellow and blue jacket would lead us all in, and we would come back for a quick rest in the tent, eat some food, and then do it all again. A guy named Doug said he read my blog, as well as the kid – well, the kid admitted that his dad had read the blog and told him about it. When the kid saw that I was still going on Yard 9, he was genuinely happy for me to get past what I had accomplished last time. It eventually got dark and the winner from last year would get the win after 25 yards (104.2 miles).

A section of stairs that we had to go down that were slick with snow at the beginning yards. They were only about 8 inches wide as well, and we definitely paid attention to our foot strike here.
Kerri and I wrapping up Yard 9 just before teaming up for one last yard.

I ran the last yard with Kerri, a runner from South Dakota, who had also said that she was dropping after ten laps. We teamed up to get through that last yard and she made the mistake of telling me that she was interested in doing an Ironman, and then had to listen to my lecture on how to do an Ironman. I’m not sure if she’ll still want to do one after that.

Kerri waving, myself and Blair getting our watches ready for Yard 10. I think Blair ended at Yard 12, 50 miles.

After getting back to the tent and giving my wife Kari and much deserved hug, I had walked over to Blair’s tent nearby and thanked him for making my day and dragging my butt through 40+ miles. The day ended with me sitting in the tent with a blanket wrapped around me and huddled in front of the heater to keep me warm as Kari began the process of tearing down our stuff and hauling it to the car. I spotted a gentleman walking by my tent and he backtracked after seeing me and said “way to go – seriously, great job!” I think he was impressed someone near his age could keep up with these young guys and gals for as long as I did. Maybe next year I’ll shoot for 12 yards. There’s still a lot of miles left in these legs.

Added another “bonked” loser rock to my collection. There will be more.
Kari, the best race sherpa/coach wife/partner in crime, and I enjoying some post-race down time in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Couldn’t do these events without her help.

~~~

Thinking of doing a backyard ultra/last runner standing event like the Big Hill Bonk? Here are a few pointers.

  • Having a tent as a home base is very helpful. You may not need it, but if the weather turns it could come in handy.
  • Bring extra running gear – shoes, socks, shirts, hats, etc. I sweat in summer and winter, and I made several clothing changes.
  • Sunscreen and lip balm are your friends. I had sunscreen on my face, but forgot to put some on my bald head. My chapped lips are still trying to feel normal three days later.
  • There are some common drop points in the race where it’s common to see people decide they are done – hitting the yards and covering the marathon, 50K, 50 mile, 100K, and of course the 100 mile marks. Make those your goals, or know to avoid them if you are not trying to hit a specific mileage.
  • Train for it like it was an ultra.
  • Have a support system or crew if allowed. My wife Kari was so helpful in having my water bottles replenished, my food ready, my change of clothes laid out, and give the emotional encouragement that is so important.
  • Although there’s usually some great ultra-type food buffet options at the event, bring some food that you know works for you.
  • Make some friends on the first lap and enjoy the company!

Ice Fishing 2022

In February 2021, I took a couple of coworker buddies Micah and Tom up to my lake home in Minocqua, Wisconsin to do some ice fishing and we had a great time. (You can read it about it here: Ice Fishing Fun). Tom is the fisherman, Micah likes outdoor fun, and I am fortunate enough to have a house on a lake to enjoy great activities all year long. Although we only caught one dang fish in 2021, and nearly froze our rear-ends off, we decided to go back to give catching some fish another go. Unfortunately, another buddy Lou couldn’t make it again this year, so he’ll just have to read about the fun here instead. Next year for sure, Lou!!!

Me, Micah, and Tom in Tom’s truck and heading north.

A winter snowstorm slowed our exit from Illinois but it ended after crossing the state line into Wisconsin.

We left work in the afternoon and motored along until stopping for dinner. As there’s not a lot of choices of places to stop for a quick meal, I suggested a common stop for me – Culver’s in Portage, Wisconsin. Tom and I were convinced we hadn’t stopped there before, but Micah was sure we had – “This is the same damn Culver’s we ate at last time, you jack-loads!” Micah was right. What can I say, there’s not much variety in Wisconsin.

We enjoyed our meal, as well as the circuses.

Upon getting to the house, we unloaded our junk, and Micah and Tom set about getting our rods set up just right to catch loads of fish.

Last year we went to a new bait shop in town and the owner kind of treated us indifferently. I think Tom said he treated us like “Fibs” – a Wisconsin put-down for Illinoisians. Fortunately, Kurt’s Island Sport Shop opens at 6am, so Tom hopped in his truck and came back with a bucket full of minnows and shiners (a bigger minnow) and some helpful advice as to where the hot spots for fishing was. Now it was time for some breakfast.

Starting our Friday morning off with a great breakfast.

Micah loves to cook and once again Tom and I were glad to let him do so. I was a little concerned about the chocolate-flavored pancake mix Tom brought along, but I have to admit that they were really tasty. I was disappointed in them somewhat when they opted for the fake Aunt Jemima syrup over real maple syrup, but whatever.

Tom measured the depth of the water and Micah jigged his pole. It’s actually not too cold in the shanty with a small propane heater going.

Hoping for warmer weather than what we had in 2021 was pointless. It was brutally cold, and also windy. And to add to that, later in the day it started snowing like crazy. Typical Northwoods weather in February, I guess.

After a few hours of not catching anything, we decided to head back inside, eat an early lunch, warm up a little, and then head back out.

Me outside of our shanty to check on the surroundings. Yup, still cold and snowy.

We found that the wind was really howling in the afternoon so we decided to head over to a cove that was protected from the wind and try our luck there. It was definitely better to be a little more sheltered from the wind, but the fish still weren’t biting.

Tom outside in the snow, checking to see if his beer was still there.

We opted to call it a day and head inside to shower and get ready for dinner. I had made reservations for us at Minocqua Prime, knowing that they had a pretty good Friday night fish fry. We all had the bluegill and enjoyed our dinners.

Dinner at Minocqua Prime.

Fried bluegill is pretty good.

A post-meal trip to Walmart to pick up some more food and some more propane for the heater, we then headed home. After a day on the lake and a very filling dinner, we found ourselves pretty tired and hit the sack at 8:30pm. Ended the day with zero bites and caught no fish.

Saturday morning didn’t start quite the way we were expecting, but after another great breakfast from Chef Micah, we were ready to hit the ice once again. The temperature was once again very cold, but we had sunshine and hardly any wind, so it made for a pretty comfortable day.

Tom doing some carpet cleaning. Don’t ask.
Another awesome breakfast.

Clearing the snow from the ice seemed like a good idea, but it made for some puddles and slick surfaces.

We chose a new location for some deeper water but it didn’t yield any action. We are starting to be convinced that there are no fish in the lake in the winter. After a little while, we moved closer to what’s called Clumbs Island hoping for some luck near a weedier part of the lake but still had no bites.

Since we had gotten a little bit of a late start to the day we decided to skip lunch and fish until we had enough. Once again, the conversations Tom and Micah were having were very interesting. I don’t know when I became an old man, but I found myself shaking my head at the stuff these two were talking about. But it was entertaining nonetheless.

We make not catching fish look like fun!

We finally pulled the plug on fishing and packed it up for the day. The neighbor has some open water near his on-the-lake boathouse which prompted those two to once again think about doing the Northwoods version of the Polar Plunge. That made me really nervous. I was relieved when their scouting of the water made them reconsider doing that. Why can’t they be normal? (lol)

Since they had deemed the Polar Plunge to be out, we opted to do some sledding down the hills in my yard. That’s more my speed.

We showered up and headed over to a wood-fire pizza place called Oakfire. Another great meal and more great conversations with these two.

Tom was pushing really hard to drive his truck on the lake and I was trying really hard not to let him do it. But I finally relented and we found ourselves driving onto the lake. A minute later he got off the packed down snow and we quickly found ourselves stuck in the snow! My fears were becoming reality! I probably wouldn’t have been too nervous about it, but Tom had already told us a story of how he got stuck in the snow with his truck. Micah and I got out to help push, and after Tom cleared some snow from the tires, we pushed. Micah fell down, I laughed, and we got ourselves unstuck. I think these two live to see me have nervous breakdowns.

We were actually on the lake – in a truck! And we survived!!!

Upon getting home, Tom wanted to play a game but I told him the games I had stunk. Sorry about that, Tom. I’ll have some better games next year.

Sunday morning came and Tom headed out to the lake while Micah and I opted to stay inside and have breakfast.

Breakfast has become the highlight of the weekend for the second year in a row.

Tom was able to land a couple small fish, but I never got to actually see them. But even so, this trip will forever be known as the no-fish ice fishing trip. Oh well, try again next year!

No Luck ’22

2021 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

September 26, 2021

How did I end up back here?

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.

That spring thing isn’t supposed to be showing. 

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.

My friend Angela checking out her bags for her first Ironman.

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.

Best prerace meal ever!

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.

I think Dave needs another shower. He never was a morning person.

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.

Still wondering how the heck I swam a 59 minute Ironman swim.

Thankfully a volunteer yanked my wetsuit off for me or I would still be sitting there trying to remove it.

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.

T1:  12:34

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.

Apparently most of the sunscreen I put on went on my face.

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.

First loop fun. At least the sunscreen had faded by now.

Earning my Pathetic Triathlete Badge. Had to do it.

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.

Less goofing around on the second loop.

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.

Just starting the “run” and trying to contain my blazing speed.

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.

Jeff and I walking to the top of Battery Hill and seeing Kari, Jill, Emma, and Maxwell.

Feeling good here on the walking bridge finishing the first loop.

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.

Second loop and second time up Battery. This isn’t even the hilliest part of this marathon. ~ Mile 18 here.

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.

5 TIME IRONMAN FINISHER

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.

Until next time, thanks for reading.  – Chris