Big Hill Bonk Race Update

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My first attempt at doing an ultramarathon distance running event will have to wait, as the race director has informed us that the officials in the town and county in which our event is being held have told him that he cannot have the event at this time.  In a world that has been overrun by a virus that no one really knows enough about, caution must be exercised to avoid a fate worse than the pandemic that has already been declared.

The race director has given us a ray of hope, however, by informing us that the race isn’t canceled but rather postponed until late October.  That made me feel a lot better about this dumb running event because I wasn’t really prepared for it as I would have liked.  After overdoing it in the fall with an Ironman, a marathon, and a couple of local road races in a span of a month and a half, I needed to give my 56-year-old legs a break rather than continue to beat them up.  I had created an ultra training plan and then kept editing it down in mileage after my persistent leg injury just wouldn’t heal.  I finally got it down to what was similar to a marathon training plan, but I was still cutting runs short and running slower to make sure that I could at least get to the starting line of this dumb idea.  After going up to Beloit and running three loops of the course I felt pretty good about having a good chance of at least reaching my goal of getting over 50K.

So maybe I might be better off running the race in the fall and take advantage of a full summer of training.  But then I checked the calendar and see that the new race date falls on October 23, 2020, twelve days after Ironman Louisville.  At first, I thought that the new race date might be too close to the Ironman for me to have enough time to recover, but I think I might be alright.  My current plan is to now train for the Ironman for the next 30 weeks since I have made it my “A” race, and then take the days leading up to the ultramarathon event very easy or off and show up being adequately prepared.  One thing I have learned about Ironman training is that it will get me ready for anything.

See you in October for the Big Hill Bonk – Last Runner Standing!

Big Hill Bonk Course Preview Run

 

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BIG HILL BONK – LAST RUNNER STANDING TRAINING REPORT UPDATE

In 2013 I learned the value of knowing what I was getting into when it comes to a race that I had signed up for.  I had joined my lifelong buddies Dave and John in signing up for Ironman Wisconsin in 2013 and we were definitely newbies to the sport.  We basically chose Madison for our first Ironman because it was the closest to us.  But we also had heard that the bike course was one of the toughest on the Ironman circuit.  So we went up to Madison to ride the course and see what it was about.  What it was about for me was a demoralizing, soul-crushing experience.  I had the pleasure of getting three flat tires and a broken spoke and the humiliation of watching Dave and John ride the course easily while I struggled.  It almost broke me.  I really thought that I might not be able to get through the ride come race day.  But fortunately, it was early in the training and as I got fitter and became a better rider the course didn’t seem so tough when I rode it again in practice a month or so later.  On race day, I knew the course well.  I rode it confidently and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

When the opportunity for an informal course preview for the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing came up, I clicked on the “GOING” button and made plans to go see what it was about.  I had looked at the race location on Google Maps many times.  I had looked at the photos that had been posted there as well as the photos that are on the Ultra Signup page for the event, but I got the feeling that they weren’t telling the whole story of this course.  So my local running friend Jodi, who is also doing this dumb running event, and I jumped in my car and headed to Beloit, Wisconsin to run about four loops of the course.

When we arrived we were pleased to see that others had also decided to check out the course and we were greeted by the race director Tyler, who greeted me by saying had read my previous blog (My First Ultramarathon?) and loved it.  Tyler answered our questions and then led us for our first loop and look at the course.

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Can’t miss this sign, nor the apropos name of the park.

The run start and finish are located at the Welty Environmental Center.  The group of about 18 runners took time for a quick photo and then we were off.

Tyler led us down the road a little bit until we came to a small opening in the fence line.  This led to a little grassy path that was about 0.5 miles in length and wasn’t all that remarkable.

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Leaving the road and heading onto the grass.

 

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The grassy path led to a paved bike route that we weren’t on for too long.  We were encountering some slick snowy and icy spots and were glad to have worn trail shoes.  Hopefully, the snow will be gone on race day.

 

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The paved bike path ended quickly and we were led to a trail that quickly became steep and tough to run up due to the icy conditions.  Those with more experience than what I have walked this hill and I followed suit.

 

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The hill eventually leveled off and led to an opening in the woods where there is a nearby toilet about 1.5 miles from the start.  We get to run on paved roads again until we hop onto a trail that will take us quite a bit down in elevation.  Jodi seemed to be enjoying this run a little too much.

 

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This picture and the others I took of the hill do not do it justice.  It was a pretty steep grade at points, and icy too.  We tried to stay far right because we were afraid of slipping and getting thrown down the hill.  I’m guessing this is the hill in the name Big Hill Park.

 

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The layout of the course, including a few missed turns and a detour to use the toilet.  Lots of slow mile splits thanks to walking the icy hills and slowing for the snowy and muddy parts.

 

The rest of the route included more paved, grassy and muddy trails that were mostly flat and not as challenging as the giant hill we had just walked up.  We finished the first loop in about 48 minutes, which is was much slower than what I was anticipating.  We did two more loops for practice and by then we had learned enough to be satisfied that we were familiar enough with the course and what we were going to be facing.

So what were the main lessons learned?  Here are the key points for me:

  • The hills will need to be respected and I will definitely power walk up them.  No sense in burning energy that I can save for later and walking will be much less taxing on my quads.  There’s about 350 feet of elevation gain per loop.  That will take a toll after a while.
  • Our time per loop of about 50 minutes or so was influenced by the icy conditions on a lot of the trail.  I would guess an ice-free course will take me about 5 minutes less per loop.
  • The distance from the runner rest area to the start/finish is not far enough to worry about it.  If the weather is bad though, I was planning to stay in my car in between loops, which is a little farther away.  I’ll have to make a game-day decision on where to relax between loops if it is really bad out.
  • TRAIL SHOES ARE A MUST!  I have been breaking in a new pair of Hoka One One Challenger ATR’s trail shoes to use if I needed them and this preview proved that I will definitely need them.  One thing I learned about the shoes though was that even though they were fairly new and just broken in, they kind of felt worn out by the time I finished the third loop.  My foot seemed to move around more in them as I navigated the terrain.  I may have to tighten the shoestrings a little and hope that I don’t get ten blackened toenails by the end of my tour of this dumb running event.
  • Although there were some logs to jump over and some gnarly tree roots and other loose impediments to concern myself with, they weren’t overly technical.  However, running over these things in the dark maybe be quite the challenge.  I will definitely be relying on my headlamps and I may even carry a small flashlight to use on the steep downhills.
  • I will need to bring extra running gear.  We started the day with a very chilly temperature of about 25 degrees or so and I was sweating pretty good.  We did notice that when we were in the woods it felt warmer than the open areas.
  • I felt pretty good after each of the three loops I ran.  They weren’t overly taxing on my legs, and I think I will easily manage 5 to 8 loops.  After that, I have no idea.  I will be very proud of whatever distance I can accomplish for this course.  It was much tougher than the flat paved trail that I normally run.

So there you have it, I got a run in on a course that I knew nothing about, got a few questions answered by the awesome race director Tyler, and learned enough about the course to be pretty confident come race day.  Looks like this dumb running event might turn out to be pretty fun.

 

The Dumb Running Event – Training Update

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BIG HILL BONK – LAST RUNNER STANDING TRAINING REPORT

I’ve been pretty quiet about my training for this dumb running event so I thought I would write a quick update on how everything is going.

To recap, the dumb running event I signed up for is called “The Big Hill Bonk – Last Runner Standing” and consists of 100 runners lining up at 5:30 pm on a Friday night in early April in Beloit, Wisconsin to run 4.16-mile loops, one hour at a time until everyone quits except one last runner.  That runner will be required to run one more 4.16-mile loop and will then be declared the “winner” of this dumb running event.  As a reminder, I will not be that runner.  Based on the results of other Last Runner Standing format races, I’m guessing the winner will more than likely last between 150 and 200 miles.  I will most certainly “bonk” way before the last runner does.  So the whole challenge for me to run this dumb running event is to see if I can get to a distance that qualifies as an “ultramarathon” distance, typically 50K (about 31 miles) and run farther than I ever have run before.

When I signed up for this dumb running event in May 2019, I was training for my fourth Ironman and feeling pretty good.  Then I did the Ironman, followed it up with a marathon a couple weeks later, raced an 8-mile race pretty hard and finished in the top 10, and then ran a turkey trot on Thanksgiving Day.  Suddenly, after two months of pushing myself, I wasn’t feeling so good anymore.  My muscles ached, my flexibility was gone, and in general, I was in need of some serious recovery time.  Then the back of my leg behind the knee area started to hurt, especially after running, so I self-diagnosed myself with the worst possible running injury and decided to cool it for a while.  I took some time off and worked on making my leg feel better.

I had gifted my son a muscle massage gun for Christmas and he and his running partner/girlfriend raved about it, so I thought it might help me as well.  Then I remembered how much those suckers cost and wondered if there was a cheaper option.  I saw a post online about someone saying they had built their own version of a massage gun out of a jigsaw and a lacrosse ball with an adapter.  After looking at a few do-it-yourself videos, I figured I had nothing to lose.  After finding the jigsaw on Amazon, I discovered some smarter than me entrepreneurs had already come up with a set of four massage end pieces and a couple of adapters that you could buy and not have to build your own.  So for a little more than $100, I had myself a cheap, albeit LOUD, muscle massager.

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Massaging away the soreness after a long run.

I had to re-edit my training plan a few times to give me some extra rest to recover from the sore leg issues, so some of the high mileage weeks that I had originally planned for were removed.  The plan now more resembles a typical marathon training plan and will have to do.

Slowing down my running tempo and massaging and stretching really helped my leg feel better, so I think I will be prepared enough to at least make a good attempt at reaching my goal for this dumb running event.  I’ve got about 5 weeks left to train and hopefully will see some good running weather soon.  I hate running in the cold and on the treadmill.

A couple of things I have learned so far:

  • Although I have been feeling pretty good while running, I had been finishing the last mile or two of my long runs feeling pretty wiped out.  I realized that I hadn’t been taking any nutrition with me for runs bordering 1.5 to 2 hours in length.  No wonder I was feeling so wiped out at the end.  I haven’t been bringing hydration with me either.  Time to correct those mistakes.
  • My midweek training run this week called for a 10 to 12-mile run.  It was cold outside and I was dreading that as well as having to run inside.  But then I thought  “Why not do a practice run-through of the dumb running event format on the treadmill instead of a straight 10-miler?”  So that’s what I did.  I ran 4.16 miles at 9:22 min/mile and finished in 39 minutes.  Then I sat around on a bench with sweat dripping off of me for twenty minutes.  My plan for the dumb running event was to run about this pace and give myself some rest and recovery time, but now I’m not so sure that’s a great idea.  As that twenty minutes of rest ended, I hopped back on the treadmill and held the same pace again for another 4.16 miles.  I quickly realized that I now smell pretty bad.  I’m not sure I want to run with myself smelling like B.O. for another 4.16 miles, but I pressed on.  At the end of that loop, I took a bathroom break and then changed into a clean and dry shirt and visor.  I also put some deodorant on and felt much better about myself.  I did one more 4.16-mile loop and added just a little extra to finish with a total of 12.5 miles.  I really felt dehydrated after that workout and spent the rest of the afternoon being thirsty and trying to drink more fluids.  It was a worthwhile workout, though.  I learned that I will stink after one loop and that I better drink more.
  • I saw a post on the Facebook page for this dumb running event that mentioned a group run to get a preview of the course that we will be running on.  I clicked that I would attend and look forward to getting in some practice running on that particular trail.  My plan calls for a 16-mile run that day, so four loops of the course would be the plan.  I’ll see what my friend Jodi has planned for that day and play it by ear.  We may carpool up there.  I wonder how she will feel about smelling my sweaty self in a car for a couple hours driving back home.
  • Ironman Louisville training is supposed to start in the second week of March, but I think that I will just let the first few weeks slide, finish my dumb running event, give myself some time to recover and then jump into the plan on whatever training week of the 30-weeks I’m supposed to be on.

 

So there you have it.  If I find something interesting to post in the upcoming weeks I will certainly do so.  Lastly, there are less than ten spots left in this dumb running event.  Why not join me and sign up?  It’ll be fun!

My First Ultramarathon?

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I may have signed up for my first ultramarathon.  May have, you ask?  Oh, I definitely put my name, age, sex and credit card number in the online entry form and hit submit.  And my name officially appears on the list of participants.  And I for sure plan on being in the field of the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing race on Friday, April 3, 2020, in Beloit, Wisconsin at 5:30 pm.  So what is the confusion?  Let me explain.

There’s a guy in Tennessee that goes by the name of Lazarus Lake.  That’s not his real name, but that’s not important.  Laz, as he is called, is the brainchild of a race called the Barkley Marathons, also known as the “race that eats its young.”  That particular race has people running through the hills of the Smokey Mountains for 100 miles in five 20-mile or so segment loops, and very few people even finish it.  It’s legendary and well worth watching the documentary if you haven’t seen it.  Highly entertaining.  But if the Barkley wasn’t enough to keep Laz busy, he decided to create another race called Big’s Backyard Ultra.  Big is his dog.  It’s his backyard.  You run through it.   A 4.166-mile loop every hour.  And then you do it again.  And again.  And again.  And again until there is only one runner left.  The last runner standing who finishes a solo loop in an hour after everyone else has dropped out is the winner.  Everyone else is a loser.  Actually, everyone else is declared a “DNF” – Did Not Finish.  For the first time in my racing and running lifetime, I will be a DNF.  Unless I outlast everyone else.  That’s not very likely.  The most recent winner of Big’s Backyard Ultra ran somewhere around 250 miles.  Three days of running.  I’m 56 years old and kind of know my limitations.  I won’t last that long.  I will be a DNF.

The overwhelmingly positive response to the Big’s Backyard Ultra in the ultra-running community has spawned other races, not just in the United States, but all over the world.  Many act as qualifying races for Laz’s race.  Actually, to gain entry into his race, now considered the “World Championship” you have to get a golden ticket, which is actually a gold coin with Big’s picture on it, and it’s only given out to the winner of the other Laz sponsored races.  I won’t get one because I will be a DNF.  I’m not even sure I will get a t-shirt out of this.

So, if I am not going to be the winner, and I am not going to even be listed as a finisher, and I’m not getting a t-shirt, then why the hell am I doing this?  Because it sounds awesome.

Three decades of running has taken me from getting around the block once, to dropping a couple of pounds to fit into my pants again, to racing local races, to running marathons, to giving triathlons and Ironman a try, to…  My point is that even though running eventually became part of the fabric of my life, it gets a little boring after a while, and you begin setting new goals and seeking out new adventures.  I’ve had ultras in the back of my mind for a long time, but I was always fairly content with marathons and Ironmans, which were plenty of a challenge for me.  But now I’m looking to explore a little more of what running has to offer before I get too old to experience it or enjoy it.  This race format popped up on my radar and I became intrigued.

What’s the draw of this race for me to get my first experience going past 26.2 miles?  Well, it’s unique for one.  Ultras usually have set distances – 31 miles or 50K being the typical minimum, 50 miles, 62 miles/100K, and 100 miles.  Pick one of them and run it.  The race format for a last runner standing race is very much open-ended.  Is there a finish line?  Well, yeah – sort of.  You cross it every loop, but then it immediately becomes 4.166 miles away again.  There’s really only one finish line, and that’s the one that the winner crosses – alone.  Again, probably not going to be me.  In this race, you could choose to get to any number of miles and then quit.  Or try to last for 24 hours before dropping.  It’s up to you how far you want to push yourself.  If I last 10 loops and get in 41.6 miles, that might do it for me.

Another factor for me is that it comes in manageable 4.166-mile segments.  Why 4.166-mile loops?  I was puzzled by the length of the loop too, thinking it was just another quirky aspect of Laz’s brilliance.  But in actuality, 4.166 X 24 hours = 100 miles in 24 hours.  So if you run twenty-four, 4.166-mile loops you will end up with 100 miles in a day.  What is nice about the distance is that it is something most runners can wrap their heads around.  Running a little more than 4 miles is no big deal.  Running 4.166 miles in an hour is really no big deal.  That’s like averaging around 14 minutes per mile.  Anyone who runs should be able to get through that in an hour.

Toss in that it’s fairly local for me, being only a couple of hours away, and that I feel pretty fit from all of the triathlon and marathon training I have done, it was easy for me to sign up.

So, will this be my first ultramarathon or not?  It’s still a valid question in my mind.  In the past, I have learned that I don’t do as well running spring marathons because I don’t train as well in the winter months in the Midwest as I do in the summer months for a fall marathon.  I’m always more fit in the fall than in the spring.  Secondly, I have no idea how to train for this race.  I’ve searched for training plans specific to this type of event and there really aren’t any.  Most trail and ultra runners just treat it like a normal ultramarathon, and they train as usual and race the event as if they are running a typical ultramarathon.  Which brings me to another issue:  pacing the run.  From what I can tell, most will try to plan to finish each 4.166-mile loop a little under one hour, leaving themselves just enough time to use the toilet, eat something, change some clothes if necessary, and then get back to the starting line for the next loop.  Ultrarunners know how to pace themselves, i.e. they run slow.  Very slow.  Sometimes they walk.  They know that fast tempos early will lead to some very sore and tired legs much sooner than they would like.  I’m a runner.  I can run 4.166 miles easily around 9 min/mile.  That will leave me with about 20 minutes to sit around and wait for the next lap. That was my initial plan, but now I’m thinking that might be a bad idea.  Will taking a 20-minute rest in a chair in between the hourly loops be an asset to me or be a really bad idea?

One last thing I need to emphasize is that this race, in particular, begins at 5:30 pm.  That time of day in April will most likely be getting near dark.  Sunset is at 7:25 pm.  I Googled it.  I will be running the majority of this run through the woods in the dark.  I’m not very experienced at that and sleep deprivation isn’t something I handle very well.  I got a feeling there will be a lot of caffeine involved in my nutrition and hydration planning.

April weather in Beloit can be anything, but I’m guessing it will be cool and possibly wet. I need to plan for all kinds of weather and be prepared.

Also on my mind about this race is what are my goals?  Since I’m pretty sure I probably won’t outlast the field, what do I want to get out of it?  Here are a couple of my main goals:

  • Do enough loops to make it past 31 miles/50K and satisfy the minimum ultramarathon distance.  That should be no big deal.  It’s just a few miles longer than a normal marathon.  But the real goal will be to make it to 100 miles.
  • Don’t be the first to drop.  I have looked at other race results and found races where there are plenty of dropouts after 1-2 laps.  I don’t want to be that guy.
  • Make it through the night.  Okay, this is going to be a challenge.  I hope I can stay awake because most nights I’m asleep by 10 pm.
  • Meet some cool people and enjoy the company.  It will be interesting to see how others approach the race and learn from them.
  • Stay out of the hospital.  I’ve visited the medical tents of past races and even though I have gained the knowledge needed to prevent the need to go there, I still sometimes push myself a little too hard.  This race will be new territory and I will really need to focus on how I am feeling.

I have a lot of questions yet to find answers to while I train the remaining four months for this race.  I will keep looking for insight and reading race reports to find the nuggets of information that I am looking for.

So did I actually sign up for my first ultramarathon?  Maybe.  It depends.  I don’t know.  We’ll see.  Hopefully, I did.  Possibly.