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!

Back to the Bonk

In April I’m heading back to Beloit, Wisconsin to give the second running of the Big Hill Bonk another go. I’m so not ready. I already feel like I’m bonking. Winter running is not my friend, and as an older runner, I try to use winter as a recovery period of sorts from what I did throughout the previous year. That makes running spring marathons tough for me. My mileage is low and my knee kind of hurts lately, but there’s still some time to get my act together and give this race another try.

I find this race format intriguing. It’s pretty simple – run 4.16 miles in an hour and keep running that 4.16-mile loop every hour for as long as you can. People will drop out until there is only one runner left and that runner is the winner. For everyone else, well, thanks for playing.

I’m not fooling myself, I know I won’t win, but I had avoided ultra-distance running for so long that I thought that I should at least experience it in order to validate my running legacy somehow. Last year I made it through 8 loops (also called yards), a total of 33-miles. The goal was to pass the 50K mark, which I did – marking my first ultra-marathon distance – and to have some fun, which I also did. I learned some valuable lessons along the way, and I’ve been thinking about them a little bit.

There’s a little bit of strategy involved in this type of race.  You have to budget your effort to not wear yourself out too early, yet you have to expend enough energy to finish the loop in an hour.  I came to the race last year not knowing much about how to run a trail ultra, but I got a crash course quickly.  I walked more than I was expecting.  Some of the hills the others were walking I would have typically never walked.  I was also carrying too much stuff and noticed most of the others just had a small water bottle.  I made a change to just carrying a handheld bottle myself by yard number three.

Me and some of the field shuffling up the namesake “Big Hill” in the early yards.

This year the race will be in April and not August, so I have to plan for running in cooler weather rather than the warm weather of last year.  There’s no crystal ball for the weather this far out from the race, so I just have to assume that it could be much cooler, and possibly rainy.  I wouldn’t have minded getting a little cooling rain last year, but the thunderstorms of the area thankfully skirted around us.  I’ll just have to hope for cool and dry temperatures for April.

It will be interesting to see how the course is in early spring compared to summer.  I’m hoping the trail will be dry.  Last summer the course had a section that was a little overgrown with the typical forest undergrowth in spots, but it wasn’t an issue.  I’m guessing that we won’t have to deal with that this time.

A fallen tree and some of the foilage we had to navigate through.

One of the other changes this time around is that the start time will be in the morning rather than early evening.  Last year we were able to get in about three yards of the course before it got dark.  So we will have some daylight loops to start with this time.

So far the field is about the same size as last time, about thirty runners.  This is a good number for the course.  More than that could make for some clogged spots in the single-track areas of the course.  I won’t need to worry about it too much.  It’s not a speed contest, but you do have to finish the yard before the hour is up.  I think most of us will average about 50-minutes to do a yard.  Having ten minutes to replenish water and food, and maybe sit for a moment is plenty of time.  I think I will try to take on a little bit more food this time as well.

I looked at the registered athletes for the 2022 event and was surprised to see that at this time there are only three runners returning from 2021 – myself, Zac Lungren, who ran 13 yards/54 miles, and Jon Noll – the eventual winner, who ran a mind-boggling 34 yards, and a total of 141 miles! Last year there was a very solid group of six runners that all surpassed 100 miles and kept pushing Jon to earn his title. The rest of the 2022 field are all newcomers as of this post. I’m guessing some of the runners from last year saw that Jon signed up and said, “Well, what’s the point?” and decided to find another race to do. Maybe some of them found the course in Beloit to be a pretty good challenge, I certainly did. And since the race got moved back to April instead of August, maybe some are also like me and feeling a little under-prepared.

Of the newcomers, there are some serious contenders there. Jon will have his work cut out for him for sure.  Many of them will be like me, curious to experience this kind of event, maybe challenge themselves to experience trail running, or hit a distance milestone for the first time.  Maybe some think that they can win.  Only Jon stands in their way.  You just have to run one more yard than everyone else.  Good luck!

Big Hill Bonk 2021 – Wisconsin Backyard Ultra Race Report

When:  08/06/2021

Where:  Big Hill Park – Beloit, Wisconsin

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

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

Results Link:  Big Hill Bonk Official Results

BIG HILL BONK – WISCONSIN BACKYARD ULTRA – LAST RUNNER STANDING

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

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

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

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

TRAINING

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

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

RACE DAY/NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE YARDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel about as good as I look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Officially Bonked at Yard 8, 33.33 miles.

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

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

NOTES FOR NEXT TIME

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

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

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

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

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

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.