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.