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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
I had a great time running a 25K trail race through a very muddy and challenging forest preserve course.
All Of The Muddy Details
Pre-race Course Reconnaissance:
Seeing that I have never run a trail race before, and because I have never run at this particular location before, I decided on Monday to drive the 30-minutes to Willow Springs and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to see what I was up against. I’m glad that I did because I received an in-depth view of the course. There were lots of missed turns, lots of rocky terrain, and lots of hills. Seeing that there was rain in the forecast for race day, I bought a pair of trail running shoes for the race. Rain or no rain, the trail shoes certainly improved my traction on this trail system.
Mud can be fun, right?
It rained on Friday – a lot. I knew that this was not going to make for a good run, but what can you do? It was still raining on Saturday morning, and it was cold too. You can’t control the weather, so I always hope for the best conditions and plan for the worst. Of the bad weather races that I have done, this one ranks around fourth I would say, behind Leon’s Triathlon 2015 (3rd – downpouring rain), Ironman Chattanooga 2019 (2nd – extreme heat), and the Boston Marathon 2018 (1st – cold, downpouring rain, headwind the entire way).
I met up with Jodi, the ultra-marathon crazy friend of mine who was running the 50K.
Jodi’s race started an hour earlier than mine, so I waited around and was soon joined by my friends Jim and Leah.
We lined up, wished each other well, and off we raced!
The race started on grass and 100 yards into it my feet were feeling the wetness from the grass. That soon gave way to much softer grass, and mud and I was trying my best to jump over visible puddles, but it was quickly becoming not worth the extra effort.
I bolted out from the gate a little stronger than I probably should have and found myself trying to keep pace with some faster runners that I had no business trying to keep up with. By a mile into it, I was passed by another more sensibly paced runner and watched him slowly pace away from me. I was starting to question the choice of layers I was wearing as I was getting a little warm. I took my gloves off, unzipped my pullover, and pulled the hat up to expose my ears. I was struggling with my eyes watering and my glasses fogging up. Miles 2-3 was the portion of the trail that most likely had the best conditions. We ran the Yellow Trail for about 3.5 miles and then came to the Orange Trail. I encountered the leaders of the 50K returning back to the start on their first loop. They were impressive. I saw that someone had ditched their jacket near the unmanned water station and I gave it a brief consideration but opted to keep wearing it.
The Orange Trail was one of the worst portions – a ditch that was basically full of mud. I made an energetic effort to run the ridge and make my way through it. Thankfully, it was short-lived and soon was on the very technical Blue Trail, with lots of hills, roots, and rocks. The Blue Trail gave way to the Green Trail, but I never noticed the markers. I was too occupied with watching for the orange course marking arrows painted on the ground to make sure I was going the correct way. Thankfully, I was seeing more and more of the 50K runners coming back at me, so I knew that I was on the right path. Around Mile 6 I was hearing another runner coming behind me and he must have been watching me dodge puddles and really muddy spots. He advised, “at a certain point you just have to commit to it.” As he passed I could see he didn’t give a damn about the puddles, just trudged right through them. I paced behind him for a while, but I still lacked the confidence to plow straight ahead through the worst spots. I wasn’t afraid of getting wet or muddy, I had committed to that a long time ago. I just didn’t want to slip and fall, possibly getting hurt.
From Mile 6 until the turn-around at 7.75 miles was some of the worst of the muddy trail. I trudged through and reached the turn-around and walked over the sensor pad. I refilled my handheld water bottle, grabbed a couple of pretzels, made a quick toilet stop, and then made the turn to follow the same trail back to the finish. I was happy that I hadn’t ditched the jacket, as the light wind was now in my face and it had started to rain a little harder.
I saw Leah coming at me and figured she was about a mile behind me. One thing to be said about the runners I was seeing heading to the turnaround, they were all seemingly having a good time. I will admit, I was having some fun too.
Thankfully, I had brought some gels with me or I might have run out of energy much earlier in the first half of the race. I was eating a gel every half-hour and it was keeping my energy up. I took my fourth and last one around the 12-mile mark and hoped that it would get me through the last 3.5 miles. Back on the Yellow Trail with it’s better conditions, I pushed my pace again and tried to keep it up. I could hear another runner behind me and as I reached a rather steep hill, I slowed to a walk and he went around me. A glance over my shoulder didn’t reveal anyone else, so I made an effort to try to reel him back in and was doing a decent job of it until I hit the grassy portion with another uphill climb that just took the wind out of my sails. I ambled around the picnic area, following the course, and saw Jodi just leaving out for her second loop. That was something I would not have wanted to do at that point! I was spent. As I crossed the finish line, a guy with a clipboard told me that I was the 2nd place finisher in my age group. I made my way to the car for some much-needed warmth.
I sat shivering in the car trying to warm up, which was made more difficult by the wet clothes I was wearing. I pulled my top layers off of me, found a long-sleeved shirt to put on, topped it with a couple of windbreakers and my sweatshirt, and then hopped back into the car. I texted Kari and advised her that I was done, and she texted that she and daughter Ashley were on their way, which was a little surprising to me, but I had left some extra shoes at home and she was kind enough to meet me with them. They helped me stay warm while we waited for the awards.
I ended up with 12th place overall and second place in my age group and was very happy with that. And it was a fun and memorable experience that I won’t soon forget. Turns out running in the mud can be fun.
After doing this race in 2019 and nearly melting from the heat, my buddy Dave and I were in agreement about not wanting to ever experience that again. I definitely tried to avoid Chattanooga, but fate pushed me there.
I had signed up for the 2020 Ironman Louisville race but it got canceled due to some social unrest in the city and of course, a worldwide pandemic. Ironman gave me four options to transfer to, three of which were also fall 2020 races and clearly not going to happen. The only other option was to go back to Chatty in 2021 and hope that the world would settle down. Thankfully, we had a better knowledge about the virus, and the vaccine helped keep the option for racing open in 2021. Things still aren’t ideal, but it’s getting better.
So I opted for a return trip to Chattanooga and I was soon joined by my Gunner buddies Jeff, his sister Jan, and eventually Dave. A few local friends also opted to give Choo a go – Susan, John, and Charlie, as well as first-timers Angela and Daniel. At first I thought that this race was going to be a solo affair for me, but now it was a full-fledged party!
Training thirty weeks for an Ironman is an awfully long time.
Once again I broke out the old trusty Be Iron Fit training book and followed the plan. 30-weeks broken into base, build, and endurance phases that has prepared this self-coached triathlete well in four previous Ironman races.
I follow the plan pretty closely with a few changes that I have found over the previous training cycles to be beneficial to me. First, I reduced the swim from the hour-plus swim, 2-3 times per week that the book dictates, to two 30-minute swims per week. I’m not the greatest swimmer, but once I had the technique down, I found that the swim training that the book wants me to do is INSANE. Plus, I get so bored swimming that I just can’t take much more than 30-minutes. I did get in a longer open water swim in Minocqua at my lake home, and I did one 4200 yard swim in my pool in the closing weeks of training just to prove to myself that I could do the distance.
Biking was more of a group thing for me this time around, and I often joined the locals for the rides out to Elwood. My coworker Tom, who had caught the triathlon bug and signed up for Ironman Muncie 70.3 was also a training ride partner. A couple of weekends I was joined by Susan, which were much needed in order to help each other get over the mental struggle of training. She won’t take any credit for turning me around mentally, but she deserves some none-the-less. Overall, it was a pretty good year for cycling leading up to the race.
As for the running – oh boy. I foolishly signed up for a “last runner standing” format ultra which also got postponed to August. I just used my Ironman training and it got me through 8-loops and 33 miles, completing my first 50K distance ultramarathon. After that, it was back to the plan and doing the work with one exception – I also foolishly signed up for the Tunnel Hill 100, an ultra-marathon in November. I’m pretty dumb. So I decided that even though I wasn’t going to increase my mileage, I did adapt to doing some run/walk long runs. I learned that a ratio of about 4.5 minutes of running with a 1.5 minute walk break on my Sunday long runs was working pretty good for me. Since I was doing Chattanooga, I figured that I was going to be walking most of the marathon anyway, so why not get used to that style of running.
How hot is it going to be this year?
Summer was hot here in the Chicago area again this year and I could sense that race day might be ugly once again. Boy was I wrong. I generally avoid looking at the weather forecast until it gets closer to race day, but it was shaping up to be beautiful. How beautiful? How about mid to upper 70s, no rain and no wind. If you could pick the perfect day, this might have been an ideal race day forecast. And if that wasn’t good enough, it rained for several days leading up to the race which cooled the water temp down below the wetsuit legal temperature of 76.1. I think this was a first for Chattanooga – a wetsuit legal swim!
What can go wrong will go wrong.
Race week meant one final check of the bike and I decided to give the drive train one last going over. That’s when my 8-year-old rear derailleur decided to die.
I drove the bike up to Spokes in Wheaton, Illinois and begged a guy named Chris to fix it for me. He said I was screwed. Actually, he said that they don’t stock 10-speed parts as they aren’t being used anymore. But he searched through an old box of spare parts and found a lesser level Sram 10-speed derailleur in workable condition. He bolted it on, I took it for a test spin, happily forked over the $70 bucks, and then thanked my lucky stars. The next day the bike was in the car and I was headed to Chattanooga.
When Carla wasn’t involved in picking out our lodging, things can get weird.
Since Dave was a last minute sign up, his wife Carla wasn’t doing all of the work finding us lodging. I didn’t mind our last hotel that we stayed at in Chattanooga, but I was hoping for something closer. I settled on the Marriott Residence Inn, which I totally picked because it was a block away and it had a little kitchenette thing. When I checked in I got some attitude from the guy at the front desk about not canceling our second room soon enough, and then I made my way to the room. It was a little dirty and smelled a little, but I was glad to have plenty room for my stuff. It got a little weird when the toilet wouldn’t flush and they had to call a plumber in to remove the travel-sized deodorant that someone had flushed down it. Fun times.
Kari flew in and soon the whole Gunner gang was in town. The next couple of days were spent checking in for the race, organizing our gear bags, and then dropping the bags and the bikes off. Gunner Jeff, a four-time Ironman, for some reason could not remember the bike/bag drop-off procedure, which I found highly entertaining. Race week anxiety does some weird stuff to your brain.
We typically try to find a restaurant to eat a prerace meal at, but since we couldn’t find something at such a short notice for our big group, we opted for a family-style spaghetti dinner, courtesy of Jill and assisted by her daughter Emma and my wife Kari. It might have been the best prerace dinner ever. We had such good conversations and the meal was delicious.
Why am I nervous? Prerace anxiety sucks.
After setting a couple of alarms I was ready to hit the sack. Except there was no way I was going to fall asleep. At 10:30pm or so, I got back up and took a portion of an Ambien and tried again. According to Kari, I was soon asleep. According to me, my brain was active all night long.
Race day is finally here!
The alarms went off and I got up and showered. Dave always showers before the race but it’s a sometimes for me. I felt like the shower might wake me up more and needed a shave, so I took one. Next up was getting dressed and grabbing some food. Then off to meet the gang to walk down to the village and into transition to check the bike and bags.
We hopped onto the school bus for the shuttle ride to the swim start and then settled into to await the start. I heard that the kayak volunteers were late getting into the water for some reason, which delayed our start by about ten minutes, but we heard the pro racers start and we would be next.
I had made a Facebook friend, a guy named Marc the Shark, and had missed seeing him at Louisville in 2017 and so far for this race too, but as I was looking around there he was just a couple of people away. I said hello and we wished each other well.
Next thing I knew I was walking down the ramp and jumping into the Tennessee River with hardly any performance expectation other than to finish without getting too worn out.
59 MINUTES!?!? THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT!
The swim went swimmingly. I drifted to the right, away from the shore and more toward the middle of the river in order to take advantage of any current that was pushing us along. The kayakers will only let you get so far away from the buoys, so I found myself pretty much between them and the kayakers. It seemed like I was swimming by myself, once again enjoying the almost 100% contactless swim. I had a little hint of a foot cramp happening, but I was able to kick it out of my system.
As the buoys turned from yellow to orange at the halfway point, I found myself getting closer to them and eventually looked up to find them on my right side for the first time. I got past the island in the middle of the river and the three bridges were dead ahead. The next thing I knew I rounded the red turn buoy and swam to the ladder, and that’s when I glanced at my watch – 59 minutes. That’s insane. I know that this course could give me a quick swim, but never in my life did I think I could swim 2.4 miles in under an hour. 00:59:43 officially. A swim PR for me.
SWIM: 00:59:43 – 52nd in Male 55-59 Age Group / 529th Male / 679th Overall
Why do I suck at the swim to bike transition?
My plan going for getting through the first transition was to not waste time like I usually do. So what did I do? I found a way to waste time.
As you can see in my swim photos I still have my swim goggles on. That’s because they are prescription and I need them to see where I am going, find my bag, and go find a place to sit down and get ready for the bike. All that went well enough but as soon as I put my eyeglasses on, they fogged up. Nice. Now I couldn’t see much at all. I couldn’t find my socks at first, but then I remembered that I had put them into one of my shoes. I found my towel and dried my feet and got some Skin Glide on them and then struggled to get my socks on. Next were the arm sleeves that went on okay thanks to me rolling them on, but then I realized that I hadn’t put on any sunscreen yet and I was sure that I would take the arm sleeves off when I warmed up. So I started looking for my spray can of sunscreen and couldn’t find it. Since I knew that they had a sun screen table at the exit of the bike corral, I stopped looking for my own and got all of my swim crap into the bag. The helmet got strapped, my nutrition, consisting of five Payday fun size candy bars, a Stroopwafel, and my gel flask, got thrown into my back pockets, and off I clopped to find my bike.
I walked the bike over to the table with the sunscreen and took off my gloves and started hitting the most vulnerable spots heavily. The gloves went back on and off I clopped again to the mount line to begin my tour of a sliver of southern Tennessee and a big chunk of northern Georgia.
They say this is a beautiful and scenic bike course. I’ll take their word for it.
Almost all of the Ironman bike courses are listed as “scenic” and I’m sure that they are. But when you are riding along at 18 mph or so, with others jockeying around you on roads that sometimes aren’t in the best shape, you tend to spend more attention to not crashing than the beautiful scenery. But this time I did actually take a few moments to gaze at the mountains and the local picturesque landscape. I did notice some low lying fog in the early stages.
I had a long sleeve shirt that I intended to put on when I started the bike but I opted not to use it and I was fine. I rode with the arm sleeves and gloves for more than half of the race before tossing them.
Heading out of town was at a fast pace. It was that way in 2019, too. I didn’t feel like I was pushing hard or anything, but after about an hour of a pace faster than I normally train at, I knew that I would be pushing pace all through the bike. The first 56 miles was under three hours by a lot, a time that I would have been really proud of if it was just a 70.3 race.
Like usual, I was glad to be getting off the bike at the end. I didn’t feel as miserable as I normally do, but 116 miles and a little over 6 hours is a long time to be riding a bike. I handed my bike to a kid volunteer to put away and jokingly told her to change the oil and give it a wash and I would be back to pick it up in five hours. She looked at me like I had two heads. Tough crowd. I guess comedy isn’t my thing.
My Garmin had me at 6:06 with the autopause turned on. That’s a huge PR for me. Garmin also has a 18.9 mph average and a top speed of 39.1 mph.
BIKE: 6:18:27 – 55th Male 55-59 Age Group / 544th Male / 662nd Overall
Time for the emotions to kick in.
As I walked from dropping the bike off with the kid, I got hit with the feels. Usually this hits me around the last mile or so of the marathon, but I was pretty proud of what I just did on the bike, as well as the swim. It didn’t last long. I was handed my Run Gear bag and off to the changing tent to waste some time.
I sat down and pulled the cycling gear off and looked for the Dude Wipe (basically a big wet wipe) and wiped my face off, as well as the bugs that I had accumulated on my sweaty shoulders. It always makes me feel a little fresher to clean up a little.
Amazingly enough, I had a sun screen can in my bag. It’s less necessary at this part of the race, but I sprayed my bald head and arms anyway. With the bib belt, shoes and visor on, I grabbed my nutrition and started out of transition.
T2 – 7:11
This marathon is no joke. I’m not going to crush this.
On Friday, I approached a first timer as he was talking with his wife about the run course and I told him that the run starts on the sidewalk about 300 yards back there and the walk starts here, pointing to the hill not even a quarter mile into the course. I was joking, but not really. I saw a photographer and gave a half-hearted effort at running for the picture but it wasn’t going so well for me.
I felt hot, which is not uncommon for me. Yes, it was still sunny and later into the day, but when you are riding you have that constant wind blowing on you to help cool you off. I walked about a half-mile before I even started thinking about running.
After the first couple of aid stations, I started to get more hydration and sugar into me and started to come around. By the time I got four miles into it I was feeling better.
It wasn’t long and Gunner Jeff caught me. I knew he would. We would leap frog back and forth sharing the run lead for the rest of the way, but seeing that he had made up the difference in what little lead I had with the swim and bike, I knew that he was ahead of me by chip time even if he was standing right next to me. The same thing happened last time as well, it just happened sooner this year. He’s good.
In 2019, I made it a goal at the start of the second loop to try to get through the wooded park along the river walk before it got dark but didn’t get it done. This time it was no problem.
I caught Jeff again and we walked up the dreaded Barton Avenue hill together and for most of the rest of that north side of the river portion of the course. I recognized my local friend Daniel just as we were turning off of Barton. He seemed to be somewhat doubtful about finishing, but I tried my best to encourage him to keep moving forward. He was in a rough place mentally, but he overcame it and finished in plenty of time.
Jeff and I also saw Dave heading up the hill as we were heading down and knew he was also going to finish not far behind us.
As we approached the walking bridge I told Jeff that I was going to walk the uphill portion of it and not to wait for me. I could have jogged with him, but I wanted him to go get his glory and cross the line first. He finished about a minute ahead of me according to the time of day, but he bested me by about 11 minutes.
As I got over the bridge I was forced to run through a gauntlet of fans that crowd the run course and one guy got an extended evil eye from me and got out of my way. I ran down the hill and turned onto the road to finish. As I approached the finish chute I kept checking in front and behind me to have a good finish for myself and things were looking good. But all at once this dope comes screaming past me and spoils my finish. And to add to that disappointment, the announcer didn’t even call me in! WTF? Oh well, it’s not my first Ironman finish, and it probably won’t be my last. But the photos still prove that I had a great race.
RUN: 5:04:47 – 50th Male in 55-59 Age Group / 476th Male / 612th Overall
FINAL TIME: 12:42:42 – 2nd fastest Ironman Finish / Swim & Bike Ironman PR’s / 5th Ironman Finish
But wait, there’s more!
Loads of thanks to go around. To my wife Kari – you’re my Iron Rock. Thanks for supporting me not only once or twice, but five times now. I promise to take next year off!
To my Gunner teammates Dave, Jeff, and Jan – thanks for being on the journey with me once again. Doing a race without you would never be as fun.
To my local friends Susan, John, Charlie, Angela, and Daniel – WELL DONE! You are all IRONMEN! And let’s not forget Casey, who magically appeared at the finish line as a volunteer and handed a much surprised me my finisher hat, medal and shirt! That was unexpected and a great way to finish.
First time racing a triathlon since Ironman Chattanooga in 2019! It seemed a little different, but all things considered it was just like I remembered it.
I was a little apprehensive about this race. Any first-ever race, especially one that is not governed by USA Triathlon, can raise a red flag for me. But as more information kept coming I realized that the race director wasn’t a first-timer, and in the end it was a really well run event.
The Forge is a small to medium sized adventure style park located next to the old Illinois and Michigan Canal and the Lemont Quarries, where stone was mined to help build and then rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire. Lots of old quarries located in the Lemont, Lockport and Joliet areas. The park has zip lines, climbing walls, pump tracks and paths for cycling, and utilizes one of the quarries for swimming and kayaking. Lemont is a nearby community and when a link to this race was shared on a page I follow, I decided to give it a go. Okay, on to the race!
Getting up at 4 am is never easy, but I got up, ate, and then I drove to Lemont and parked at the Lemont High School parking lot, as the participant guide indicated that parking was limited at the Forge and it was really easy to park at the school and ride my bike to the park. Once that I got there, I found the rack for my bike and got my transition all set up.
After setting up I had some time to kill, so I walked to the swim start and exit, and walked back to transition to see where bike and run in/out were located. I jogged down the bike trail a little while to burn off some anxious energy and then used the bathroom and headed back to get my swim stuff.
The Swim – 11:28
I had swam on Friday and had a really good workout. Felt really strong and had no issues. I’m not sure why I couldn’t duplicate that here but I couldn’t. I was slow, felt like I couldn’t get enough air, and seemingly couldn’t get it under control. I was getting passed by a lot of other swimmers, but I finally settled in. Fortunately, the swim wasn’t long and I was out of the water soon enough.
I had planned for a non-wetsuit swim as the race director had said several times that the water temps had been high and that we should plan to swim without a wetsuit. Turns out, Friday night and Saturday morning were cool and it was wetsuit legal. I hadn’t even brought the thing. I kind of wish I had, but nothing I could do about it. There were only a handful of triathletes wearing them. I would have thought that the quarry would have been really deep, but there were several places where I could easily see bottom, and there were times where my hand was actually touching the weedy stuff growing in the water. I was in 76th place overall after that miserable swim.
T1 – 2:08 – Coming out of the water we had a thin, green outdoor carpet covering rocks, but I’m such a tenderfoot that it was a struggle for me. Then we hit the crushed limestone and I didn’t really enjoy that either, but eventually we got into transition where there was more carpet covering grass. I quickly grabbed my water bottle and rinsed off my feet and then made a decision that I later regretted – I decided to go sockless on the bike. I never do that but I didn’t want to wrestle socks onto two wet feet. 22nd overall fastest through T1.
The Bike – 37:52 – I had biked on Thursday and I thought that I could probably push close to 20 mph average on race day. Boy was that wrong. I ended up averaging about 17 mph, but it wasn’t for lack of trying to go faster. The course was new to me, and there were lots of slower riders ahead of me. But the thing that really affected my overall speed was the numerous sharp turns, as well as a few hairpin turns thrown in for fun. It was a difficult course, and even though there was a no passing mandate on a portion in which there was two-way riding on a six foot wide path, there was plenty of passing going on. But from the moment when my butt hit the seat, I was gunning hard and passing lots of the faster swimmers. I never got passed on the bike, and ended up with the 24th best bike split.
T2 – 1:25 – What I thought was a super fast transition from bike to run, it turns out I was pretty slow compared to the others. This is also where I realized how dumb it is to go sockless. My cycling shoe had worn the skin off a small spot on the top of my foot. Needless to say, I put on my socks for the run and won’t be going sockless ever again. The results had my T2 split at a questionable 164th place. Really? That surprises me because I thought I had done pretty well. But I guess having to put on socks is what killed my time.
The Run – 22:04 – Grabbing my visor and bib belt, I bolted out of T2 without yet putting them on, and I was on the trail for what is my strong suit – the run. I passed three very fit triathletes by 1/4 mile into it and was feeling great. I just kept motoring along, passing numerous other runners. I came up on one woman at the turn around who knew what was about to happen and stepped aside to let me go by. I thanked her and started trying to catch the next runner. Soon I saw another woman heading toward the turn around and I thought to myself that I bet she overtakes me soon.
Somewhere after the 2 mile marker, the course veered off the I&M Canal trail and headed onto a park trail. There was a hill and the volunteer standing there said “You’re welcome.” I said “I’m walking this damn thing.” And I walked up it. It was steep, but what goes up quickly came down as we meandered through the portion of the Forge where they have climbing apparatus and zip lining stuff. There were some pretty steep rocky stairs that I had to run down, but they weren’t too technical. Back up a couple more hills and it was back the the trail and over to where we had to pass the finish line and do a quick 1/4 mile out and back to the finish. The out portion was where the woman who I figured would pass me finally did. We went around the cone together, but she hit the gas and I couldn’t match her pace. I had the 16th fastest run split for the day and moved myself up to 22nd overall.
I cooled down, grabbed a banana and some water, put on a dry shirt, and kicked back by the quarry to wait for the rest of the triathletes to finish. The scrolling results on the projected screen would only show overall place and not age group place, so I had to wait until the awards to find out if I had placed. When the announcer announced my time first I started heading for the stage. I was slightly surprised at 3rd place in my age group, but I was glad to take home the award, even if it was an odd carabiner clip thing attached to a chunk of wood. I think I prefer medals. The Old Guy age group seems to be the most competitive group out there. 16 of the top 25 were over 40 years old, and most of the rest were in their thirties. Only two of the top 25 were under 30 years old, a 19 year old and a 29 year old.
Conclusion – The Forge Off-Road Triathlon was a fun event. It was different to have to actually think about riding on a course like this, instead of just hammering along in aero on my tri bike. I would do this one again, and would recommend it to anyone thinking about hitting the trails for the bike and run instead of what we normally race on.
Results: 22:20 – 19th Overall – 12/124 Place Male Overall – 3rd Place M56-60 Age Group
Racing is back! Not sure I am though. After a year plus hiatus from racing due to the pandemic, I decided to join three of my coworkers and jump back into racing. I felt some anxiety about participating in this race, which is the norm for me for any race, but it was mostly due to not really being prepared to race a 5K having done nothing but long and slow distance training for most of this year and last. But I figured why not jump in and test my fitness a little, so I did.
I had checked the race results from 2019 and saw that I had a pretty good chance to possibly crack the top ten in this little local race, but when I got to the race I could clearly see that the competition was going to be strong. People want to get back to racing I guess. When I noticed that Tinley Track & Trail was well represented, I knew that a top ten finish was going to be a challenge.
I arrived and did my usual warm-up, and it didn’t take too long as the temps were in the low 80’s for this Thursday evening in June. About five minutes prior to the start I took my place in the start area and waited for the gun. Instead of a gun though, the girl starting the race gave some unclear message about starting the race when she starts the music. Well, the music started and we where all like “do we go now?” Someone took off, and the rest of us followed.
My plan was to try to stick with a guy named Rich from the Tinley T&T squad, as he is a little faster than me and would help me pace to my best effort. Rich has become my main competitor (arch enemy) lately, as he is in my age group and I see him at most of the local races.
The race starts with a little uphill and then flattens off for a while. When I noticed that I was running at 6:50 pace I tried to dial it back and settle in and also realized that I was once again hitting it too hard out of the gate. That wasn’t my game plan, but I seem to always go out too fast for the first mile. I clocked a 6:54 first mile and just shook my head. Rich was still ahead of me but he was starting to build a little bit of a gap.
I used to have some dumb rules for myself about who not to let beat me in a race. I need to add mom’s pushing baby strollers to the list, as two of them passed me in the second mile. To their credit they were fit, but it sucks to get passed by anyone pushing a baby stroller!
The second mile came 7:19 and although that was a decent pace that should have been comfortable, it wasn’t because I had already burned all my matches in that first mile and that pace was being forced upon me. I had driven the course earlier in the day because I was unfamiliar with it and saw that the last mile had a good drop but the last half-mile would be a climb uphill to the finish. Once I made the turn onto that hilly portion I was maxed out. I retook one of the stroller pushing moms but knew others were chasing me down. I gave it my all but got passed by another runner named Kelly, who I know from the local running club. But I was just glad to be finishing the last mile in 7:22 and coming in at 22:16, according to my watch.
The awards were quickly posted online and I could see that being third in my age group would not get me a medal for this race that only went two deep for the awards. Rich finished a half-minute ahead of me and I couldn’t quite match the pace at the end of another guy, who beat me by about ten seconds. Oh well, I need to be a little more prepared for next time and just be happy that racing has returned. 19th place out of 281 finishers isn’t so bad.
Summary: Chasing the Sun 5K is a tough little course with lots of turns and challenging hills at the start and end. I may keep this one on the calendar. I kind of like races on weekday evenings.
Results: 57:32 / 9th Overall / 8th Place Male Overall / 2nd Place M55-59 Age Group
I started running this race in 2011 and this was my 5th time running it. It’s a fun race that is unique – an 8-miler, which you don’t see very often, it’s run in a nature preserve on mostly chipped limestone trail that meanders through some scenic Illinois prairie, and finishes the last half-mile or so on a grass horse track.
My goal for this race is always the same, finish the 8-miles in less than an hour and place in the age group and take home a medal. Mission accomplished!
I did a little shake-out run to see if I was dressed warm enough and was satisfied with what I had on. After a couple of bathroom trips and reading the paper in the car it was time to head to the start line.
The start line has this funnel start in which only one runner can pass through at a time, which is really an odd way of doing it, but there may be some method to that madness. Since this is a trail run and it’s only so wide, this gets the runners to spread out. The first banner in the starting area said 7-minute miles, then 8, 9 and so on. I came back from another quick heartrate boosting jog I took my spot in the 7-minute spot. I was by myself. I was looking around and it appeared no one else was going to join me. Really? None of you runners back there can beat a 56-year-old guy? I noticed one guy wearing a North Central hat and said get in front of me and he was turning me down saying that he really wasn’t in racing shape. Really? You’re a former runner of the top DIII Cross Country running school in the nation and you don’t think you have a chance of beating me or the rest of these guys?! I got behind him and told him just not to run too fast because I didn’t want to lose sight of him and get lost.
The guy doing the announcing yelled everything like it was the most exciting info you could hear and he always went up in pitch at the end. Things like how to line up, when the race was starting, etc., he made it sound exciting. He counted down to zero and an air horn blew and off we went.
North Central guy and I were 1-2 out of the gate and I was already throwing out my usual pre-race run plan, start comfortable and run negative mile splits. Nope, I redlined it from the start. After the first turn, I lost sight of North Central guy and started hearing the footsteps of others behind me. By the half-mile mark, I was passed by a group of 3 runners, including the top woman and was now in 5th place. Everyone ahead of me was younger until about the 3-mile mark when I finally got passed by another guy with grey hair wearing shorts. He was running at a good clip and put some distance on me in no time. And then I was alone again, which is where I find myself in every race.
At one point I passed a couple of high school kids monitoring the course to make sure that the runners don’t turn off course and they cheered me. I told them to cheer nice and loud for the next runner so I could get a feel how far back the next guy was. They didn’t let me down, and I heard loud cheering about 40-seconds later. Nice.
Around 4.25-miles into the race, I encountered a girl who was right ahead of me on the course, right after a point in the course where those behind were supposed to turn right and follow the loop. Since only one girl had passed me early in the race I knew right away that she didn’t make the turn. I asked her if she missed it and she said she decided to only run five miles of the course, pulled out her phone and that was the last I saw of her.
The rest of the race went pretty much how I expected it to go. I had brought along a gel, which seems kind of unnecessary for a race lasting less than an hour, but I couldn’t resist and started taking small nibbles from it. I’m glad I did because it did feel like I was suffering less.
When I would pass a turn I would look back and I could see a runner wearing a blue singlet behind me. He had been back there a while so I was hoping that the kick I had planned for the last mile or two would be enough to keep him at bay. Then I got to the portion of the course where the 5K turnaround was located and hit a wall of slow walkers not even halfway done with the 3.1 miles. This gets me going because they should know that they need to stay right and not block the rest of the racers. I did a lot of shouting “SHARE THE TRAIL!” at these people, and not in the same way the announcer dude was shouting stuff.
I finally made it to the horse track for the finish and was in the final turn when the guy in the blue singlet finally caught me and passed me. Got me riled a little knowing that he had been back there the whole time and waited to the very last 1/4-mile to overtake me, but whatever, that’s racing. I finished and was glad to be done.
Place: 8487th Place Overall / 6610th Male / 243rd Male 55-59 Age Group
Another Chicago Marathon is in the books! Here’s a “By-the-Numbers” look at my race.
9 – Number of Chicago Marathons I have started and completed.
21 – Total number of marathons run (including Ironman finishes).
3 – Where my finish ranks for the fastest marathon finish times for me (3:25 in 2016 & 3:28 in 2015, all at Chicago and all in my fifties.).
3 – Number of times meeting the Boston Marathon qualifying standard, all at Chicago.
13 – Seconds below the BQ at this race (3:35:00 is the BQ for my current age/sex).
0.000000000001 – Percent chance that I will get into the Boston Marathon with that slim margin.
0.0 – Percent chance that I will even apply for the Boston Marathon with that time.
2 – Number of weeks after completing Ironman Chattanooga that I ran this race.
97 – Minutes faster I finished the Chicago Marathon compared to the marathon split at Ironman Chattanooga (5:11).
27.1 – Miles that my Garmin watch recorded for the run. It was off by 2/3’s of a mile by the halfway point. It’s hard to plan splits when your watch gets off.
8:12 – Average pace minutes per mile (I was aiming for 8 min/mile).
7:13 – Best mile split, Mile 1
8:56 – Worst mile split, Mile 26
3 – The number of seconds Emily’s grandfather yelled at me that I was wasting by stopping to kiss Kari when I saw her and the group of family and friends that came to watch Emily and I (okay maybe just Emily) race. I wasn’t expecting to see Kari that early in the morning because she had a long night on Saturday. So I took 3 seconds to appreciate that. Worth it. Should have spent four seconds.
1:45:00 – Halfway (13.1 miles) split, a perfect 3:30 pace split (Nailed it!).
0 – Number of times I stopped for a bathroom break.
1 – Number of times I peed into an empty Gatorade bottle shoved discreetly down my pants in the start corral before the start.
4 – Number of guys who stood next to me in the corral and whizzed openly on the curb.
41 – Degrees Fahrenheit at the start of the race.
45786 – Number of finishers.
187 – Average run cadence/steps per minute for me.
156 – Average heart rate/beats per minute for me. Seems high. I wasn’t working that hard.
2919 – Number of calories burned, according to my Garmin.
51331 – Number of steps total for the day.
6 – Mile where you turn back south and get a whiff of the strong smell of breakfast being served at some restaurant along the course. It makes me angry every time because I want to stop and eat pancakes and can’t.
1 – Number of times I said to myself during the race that I am not enjoying this anymore, somewhere around Mile 8. Yeah, I know, pretty early on and it was due to the cold wind that was blowing on me all of a sudden. The wind was pretty strong and cold at times.
2/3 – Portion of the race that I kept my gloves on for.
Numerous – Number of spectators I saw trying to cross the gauntlet of runners to get to the other side of the street, which is really a dumb idea and really ticks me off.
1 – Number of spectators I saw wipe out trying to cross the gauntlet of runners to get to the other side of the street, landing with a pretty hefty thud, which caused me to laugh and call him a dumbass.
2 – The number of Ben’s friends (Adam and Colin) still hanging out around Mile 22 that I saw and High-5’d. It was a welcome boost.
4’9″ – The estimated height of the girl that I spent the majority of the race running with, usually behind her because she had such an arm swing going that I was afraid she would punch me with it. It’s interesting that after a couple of miles into the race that you will be running with the same people for the majority of the rest of it.
3:25 – The finish time I was predicting for myself at the halfway point.
3:30 – The finish time I was predicting for myself at the 20 Mile mark.
3:35 – The finish time I was praying for with one mile to go so that I would be under the time cutoff for a Boston Qualifier.
1 – Number of hills of any significance on this course – located at Roosevelt Road, AKA Mt. Roosevelt, which comes at Mile 26. It’s a nothing hill but comes at the end and I started to cramp up and had to walk some of it.
0 – Desire to do this race again.
Okay, that’s enough of the numbers. Here is the report in a nutshell. The race went pretty well for me. I was a little concerned that I would not have been recovered enough after finishing Ironman Chattanooga two weeks prior to running this race. But seeing that Chattanooga was so hot and that I walked/jogged the vast majority of it, the Ironman didn’t really beat me up that much. I actually felt pretty good after it. So I decided to push myself in Chicago and shoot for a 3:30.
I had one layer too many on at the start and the windbreaker that was getting me too warm and making me sweat was handed off to Kari in the early miles. The temperature was awesome, but the occasional gust of wind would jolt you pretty strongly. I was taking on water and Gatorade as well as hitting the gels every 30 minutes, which I increased in the latter part of the race. I felt that my energy level was good, but my muscles were just not responding and getting more tired and sore as the miles added up.
I wouldn’t say that I hit a wall, but I did feel like the last 5K was a battle of will for me. I really dug deep in that last mile and a half. I could see that my pace was slowing even though I felt like I was giving it everything I could. It seemed like I was passing a lot of people at the end, but that’s not unusual. Then I finished and was relieved.
Now the fun part starts.
After crossing the finish I tried to keep moving forward. My hands started to tingle and I could feel myself starting to get a little lightheaded. I grabbed a water bottle and started drinking it. A medal was placed around my neck by some bearded guy and I worked my way through the chute. One thing about the marathon finish chute is that there isn’t any place to sit down. That’s by design, they don’t want you to stop moving or it will clog up everything for the remaining runners coming in, and it is in your best interest to keep moving so you don’t start cramping.
It wasn’t long and a girl ahead of me dropped to the ground and started screaming in pain, raising her leg up. Clearly, she was having a bad leg cramp, but the volunteers didn’t have a clue what to do with her. As I stepped around her I assured myself that they would help her, and I did that because I didn’t want to BE her. My goal was to make it to the Medical tent and be close to it if things went further south for me. As I got there I was met by two guys, Jeff and Kyle, a couple of nice guys, probably med students, who started peppering me with questions. I thought I was passing their test, but they decided to get me in the tent and get some blankets on me. A doctor approached and peppered me with more questions, one of which was “what’s your bib number?” Hell, I couldn’t remember it. I don’t think I ever really committed it to memory. It had an 11 and some 6’s and 7’s. “Okay, let’s go sit down.”
They sat me on the cot in what I could tell was a pretty empty medical tent and made me lay down, and that’s when all hell broke loose. My calves seized up and I began screaming. Loudly. Then they had a great idea to shove a foam roller under my legs and have two massage therapists grab my calves like they were squishing Play-doh between their fingers. That prompted more screaming now fortified with some very strong expletives. They were fighting me and I was fighting back. I finally convinced them that I needed to stand up, which thankfully for them they allowed, because had they not I would have summoned all strength that I had to murder each and every one of them.
Guess what? The cramps went away as soon as I was on my feet for a few seconds. I apologized, they understood and we tried a different approach. I was now shivering and blankets were piled on me. After a little walking, I sat in a chair and they brought this thing over called a “bear hugger,” which was a warming blanket that was heated to 43 degrees Celcius. They offered warm chicken broth and Gatorade and I did my best to get that in me. It was now pretty clear, I was dehydrated and paying for it. But at least I was now warm and toasty.
In retrospect, an IV probably would have done me wonders but I was reluctant to ask for one. I had gotten them post-race before years ago with no issues, but one time at the Rockford Marathon I requested one and the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance taking a trip to the hospital. I did not want that to happen, so I kept my mouth shut. Also, getting an IV would have required me to lay down again and there was no way in HELL I was going to do that.
After warming up and doing some more walking around, they allowed me to leave. Actually, I think it was more along the lines of they no longer needed to waste their time with me. I asked where the Red Gear Check tent was and they offered to get me a golf cart to take me there. Really? After I called each and every one of you an MFer, you are going to cart me there? Sweet! So I hopped in “GOLF CART 1” as the lady driver broadcast herself into her portable radio, informing maybe the other two people listening that she was giving me a lift. The ride was to the Red Gear Check tent was interesting. Instead of putting me in a wheelchair and pushing me there in a couple of minutes, we instead drove what seemed like 90 MPH down the sidewalk along Lake Shore Drive for several minutes, while Helen Wheels kept blowing a whistle to get people to get out of her way. I was crouched over trying not to get tossed out of the cart while still clutching the three blankets around me to keep me warm. We passed the backside of the Red Gear Check tent at what seemed full speed and I really wished that I had just walked there instead, and then we pulled into an open gate while other workers looked at us like this was quite unusual. She drove me as close to the Red Gear Check tent as she could without hitting other marathon finishers walking past. I could read their faces – “How the hell did this guy get carted to the Red Gear Check tent?! Must be a celebrity or VIP or something.” Hardly, just some guy who just had experienced the strangest 60-minutes post-marathon of his life. Then Helen Wheels barked into her microphone “GOLF CART ONE RETURNING TO THE MEDICAL TENT,” and that was the last I saw of her.
But wait, there’s more.
So I get my checked bag from the Red Gear Check tent and was so glad that I had checked a hoodie and some pants. The warmth felt great after a 90 MPH ride in a golf cart with Helen Wheels on a now 48-degree day.
Then it hit me, I had to walk back to the hotel. Not sure that it was even a full mile, but at the pace I was shuffling at it was going to take me a while. Where the heck was Helen Wheels when I needed her? I spotted some port-o-potties and peed for the first time since 7:15am, then I shuffled over and saw the Runner Reunite area, and since the big inflatable labeled G-H was nearby I made my way close enough to see if I could see Ben or Kari standing there. That was never in the meet-up plan, so I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t see them. Exiting Jackson Street back onto Michigan Avenue was miserable. Tons of people all trying to squeeze out right there and now I was getting a little too warm. Thankfully I made it to Michigan Avenue, turned north and that’s when I saw my tall son towering over the rest of the pedestrians. He looked relieved to find me. As we shuffled down Adams Street I apologized for my slow tempo, and I could tell things weren’t right. I was getting nauseated. When we got to Dearborn Street I spied a large planter next to the road and basically barfed up all of the liquid that I had just put in me in the Medical tent. I instantly felt better.
Kari was walking to meet us and was briefed and we went back to the hotel where I showered up, put on some clean, warm and comfortable clothes, and then started walking to the car. On the way, we offered a homeless person one of the blankets I had been given in the Medical tent, and it was gratefully accepted. As we headed out of downtown Chicago I caught a glimpse of some runners still on the course running in Chinatown at Mile 21.
After some restless attempt at sleeping in the car on the way home, upon getting home I walked inside and said hello to my daughters Ashley and Rebecca and laid down on the bed and slept. After eating some soup Kari picked up for me and some salty potato chips and sugary drinks I started coming around.
And my friends wonder why I declare after every marathon that I will never do another one.
It was so hot that the loaf of bread I bought at the store was toast when I got home.
It was so hot that I started my clothes on fire just to cool off.
It was so hot that I saw a heatwave but I was too hot to wave back.
It was so hot that hot water was coming out of both sides of the faucet (in my hotel that was true!).
It was so hot that I jumped in the Tennessee River just to get wet, got on my bike and rode 116 miles just to have some wind blow on me, and then dumped ice down my pants for 5-plus hours as I ran through the streets of Chattanooga just because that’s the kind of weird things an Ironman triathlete does when faced with one of the hottest days I have ever raced in.
I am an Ironman Chattanooga finisher. A 2019 Ironman Chattanooga finisher. I don’t say that lightly. The race day high temperature reached 94 degrees from what I can see on the internet. Humid too, pushing the real feel heat index up over 100 degrees. Mostly sunny. No wind. No escape from the heat. It was hot. Chattanooga threw a heck of a day at me, and I am proud to say I was able to get the job done. Here’s a recap of how I survived this day and was able to become a four-time Ironman.
Once again, I followed Don Fink’s book Be Iron Fit to train for this race. It has served me well the past three races, and again I followed the 30 Week Competitive Plan to get ready. I did make some changes to the plan, mainly to the swim. The school I normally use for swimming changed their policy regarding daytime public access to the pool, so I decided to wait until I opened my own pool to swim, which meant I missed several weeks of swim training. And like I did when I trained for Ironman Louisville, I decided that the plan had too much swimming for my needs. So I reduced it to two 45-minute swims per week, and if I couldn’t get those two swims in, I shot for one 1-hour swim on my Monday rest day. Seeing that Chattanooga would be a current aided swim in the Tennessee River, I figured I would be okay.
Biking and running were done mostly to the plan and all went well. Once again I felt that Be Iron Fit prepared me well. My teammates Dave, Alex, Jeff and his sister Jan all followed the plan and we had a great time training together (mostly virtually) over the summer.
My wife Kari and I left for Chattanooga Thursday morning and drove the 9 or so hours with a few stops along the way. After checking into the hotel and grabbing a bite to eat, we waited up for Alex, Dave and his crew to arrive. Jeff and Jan were late arrivals and we met up in the morning.
We all met up had breakfast and then went to the Ironman Village to check-in. We attended the “mandatory” athlete briefing, and then it was back to the hotel to escape the heat for a while. We even opted to eat the pasta buffet that the hotel hosted on Friday just because it was an easy option and we didn’t have to go back outside.
Saturday we checked our bikes and dropped off our gear bags and then the group decided to drive the bike course to see what we were up against. We always make this mistake because experiencing the course from a car is nothing like experiencing the course from the bike and it usually scares the heck out of us. But Dave mentioned that since none of us came out and said anything really noteworthy about it, it must not be that bad. I agreed, it didn’t really seem that bad, just a bunch of hills repeated over and over again with some good downhills thrown in. It didn’t shock us like Wisconsin, Lake Placid, or Louisville did thankfully.
We later sat in the hot sun and attended the Welcoming Ceremony hosted by the Ironman announcer who does a pretty good Mike Reilly impersonation. I didn’t catch his name but he was fine. The video about what it’s like to sign up and train for an Ironman was pretty funny and got us in a good mood for tomorrow.
One thing I dropped the ball on with this race was that it was the host for the Ironman North American Club Championships. I regret that we didn’t register our team and compete against the other clubs and teams. I bet we could have beaten some of them, especially with our ringer, Alex gaining huge points for us.
After a dinner with the gang and our families, we headed back to the hotel and made plans to meet at 4:50am to head to transition. Ugh.
I slept pretty decent and got up feeling pretty good at 4am. After getting ready and downing a bagel, I grabbed my Morning Clothes bag and headed to the lobby. The Gunners all seemed awake and ready to take on the day. We walked to transition to check our bikes and bags and to get body marked.
I gave the tires the old finger pinch test and decided that they felt pumped up enough to not bother trying to find a pump to use. If anything they might be a little low, but with the heat, they would probably gain a little pressure throughout the midday ride.
We hopped on the school bus for the shuttle ride to the swim start and I took a seat with Dave, just like we did back in kindergarten 50 years ago. The bus dropped us off in the dark and we got our bearings and took a seat on the grass to await the start.
Dave and I opted to start in the 1:10 to 1:20 pace group, which turned out to be pretty appropriate for me. Alex started up in the first wave, and Jeff and Jan started in a few behind us. I pulled on my Roka swim skin and got my earplugs, goggles and swim cap on and that is when Kari and Ben found us. After a quick picture, it was time to start moving to the start.
We shuffled our way down the path to the dock, avoiding pee puddles along the way and jumped in. I wouldn’t see Dave again until the second loop of the run.
SWIM – 2.4 Miles / 1:16:14 / 57th M55-59 Age Group / 645th Male / 898th Overall
I realized as soon as I hit the water that the swim, the portion of triathlon that I usually dread, was going to be the easiest and most enjoyable part of the day. The water was warm, clean and wet, just like I like it. I reminded myself to start slow, start heading wide and just swim nice and easy. The kayakers and stand-up paddleboard volunteers monitoring the swimmers seemed to prefer everyone to stay on the left side of the buoys. I did that for the first two, but then moved over a little and kept the majority of the rest of them on my left because I wanted to be as far out in the river as I could to take advantage of a stronger current but I’m not sure it made much of a difference.
I had heard in the athlete briefing that when the buoys turn from yellow to orange you were halfway done. The last buoy was marked with a number 9 and I told myself to count off nine more. When I saw the last red turn buoy I relaxed rather than start sprinting to the swim out like I normally do. I was helped up the stairs by volunteers and gave a glance at my watch and saw 1:16. I was hoping to be closer to one hour but I think the lack of a wetsuit kept me from hitting that. My two 45-minute weekly training swims were plenty to get me ready for that swim.
Overall, it was a low-contact, uneventful swim that I kind of wanted to enjoy a little longer because I knew 116 miles of riding a bike in 90-degree temps was about to begin.
T1 – 10:39
I found my bag quickly and was off to the change tent. I rubbed a ton of Body Glide on my feet, grabbed my stuff, ate most of a Clif Bar and a gel, and took time to spray myself down with sunscreen before heading outside and having more sunscreen put on me by volunteers. I grabbed my bike off the rack and headed out.
BIKE – 116 Miles / 6:47:00 / 40th M55-59 Age Group / 505th Male / 641st Overall
After driving the course the day before, I knew the road was going to be rough, so I made sure I paid attention to the road. I found myself trying to hold back my pace but I was feeling super good. I was doing 20+ mph easily and that’s not how to start out on the day that was ahead of me. I finally decided to watch the speed and heart rate a little more and just relax. I found a good pace and settled in.
At the first aid station, I decided to refill my water bottle with GU Roctane drink mix that I had trained with all summer, but I ended up spilling most of it because the volunteer helping me put in too much water in my bottle. It made for sticky arm pads and aerobars, but I took another water bottle and washed it off. No harm, no foul. I needed to use the bathroom, so I handed my bike to a kid volunteer and went inside for a quick potty break. I pulled my tri shorts down and that’s when my first OH NO! happened. I had dealt with some saddle sores on my butt from training and I had remembered that I had this little 1/4 inch thick foam rubber pad that I started using to provide much-needed relief. I decided to put it in my shorts before leaving transition and it was doing its job. But as I dropped trou, the pad fell into the blue lagoon. For one hot second, I thought about reaching in and grabbing it! But I quickly came to my senses and just dealt with the fact that my butt is going to be sore for another six hours.
The bike course consisted of one little rolling hill after another and they just wouldn’t stop coming. But when you ride a course like that it kind of engages you and focuses your attention on shifting and adjusting to the effort, which keeps your mind off the heat or in my case, my sore butt. I always find it interesting that in a race with 2000 or so triathletes, you tend to end up in a group and stick with them the majority of the ride. It makes sense because sooner or later you are going to settle in with people riding at the same pace. I had some good conversations with a few of them. Most of the conversation was started because they liked the saying I had put on the back of our team tri suits: “I HATE THIS SPORT”. The other Gunners said they also got plenty of feedback from that saying. Alex made that saying our motto, and we always joke about it.
As for keeping up with my hydration and nutrition, I think I did pretty well. I stopped at nearly every aid station and got a fresh water bottle and Gatorade Endurance bottle, even if they weren’t completely empty. I grabbed some cut banana pieces occasionally and kept taking my gels every half hour. I did stick with a salt capsule every hour through the first half of the ride, but I added an additional capsule every other hour on the second half. I didn’t want to get low on electrolytes, but with the Gatorade, gels, and salt capsules, I think I was plenty fine on electrolytes.
I had one little incident with a bug flying into the slot at the top of my helmet which forced me to pull over and try to get it out of there because I didn’t want it to sting me. Otherwise, the ride was pleasant enough in spite of the heat. Truthfully, the heat never fully came to the forefront of my focus on the bike. Creating my own breeze at 18 mph, dumping water on myself, and focusing on not wrecking on one of the bad sections of the road was enough to keep my mind off the heat. My Garmin data shows that I averaged about 18.1 mph, but that doesn’t take into account the amount of time that I spent stopped at the aid stations. Garmin tells me that I had about 23 minutes of non-moving time, so you can see that I did spend some time in the aid stations. It also shows that I maxed out at one point at 37 mph, so there were some good downhills. The one difficult climb was the last part of the south section of the course on Cove Road, which was a very slow spin for a few minutes, but we were then rewarded with a quick downhill just before the hairpin turn onto Hog Jowl Road and heading back north.
I can remember thinking that this was the most difficult bike course of the four Ironman courses I have ridden, but after a few days of thinking about it, I don’t think it was as bad as I was experiencing during the ride. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to experience that course again.
T2 – 12:08
I grabbed a water bottle off my bike and made my way to the Run Gear bags. I sat down in the tent near the exit where the fan was blowing and emptied my bag on the ground. First up was to grab the wet towel I had stored in a bag and wash my face off. It was hot, but just getting sweat and grime off of me makes me feel better. Next, my socks came off and I saw that my feet looked a little pale and water-soaked but weren’t sore at all. I grabbed the Skin Glide lotion and emptied it on both feet and then pulled on fresh socks. I had put my fuel belt in my bag with a bottle containing energy drink, but after it sat outside in the sun all day I didn’t think I wanted to drink that. Plus it was heavy and I decided that just running with the bib belt was my best option. I opted for a running hat instead of a visor to keep the sun off my bald head and to have the possibility of putting ice in it if I needed to. My gel flask with my GU in it and an empty plastic bag to fill with ice on the course went into my back pockets and off I went to get some more sunscreen before heading out of transition.
RUN – 26.2 Miles / 5:11:48 / 24th M55-59 Age Group / 380th Male / 486th Overall
I may have managed to start out jogging, but when the course started to head out of Downtown Chattanooga it became an uphill grind in the sun for about 6 miles. My body was telling me that I wasn’t going to last very long if I tried running up the hills and in the sun. I walked. I walked some more. I stopped at every aid station and took on ice and cold drinks. I went to the water bottle I was carrying a lot, but only kept it about a third full so it wouldn’t be too heavy to carry. Refilling it wasn’t a problem. Miles 1-6 was a slog and I just was hoping to get from aid station to aid station. I grabbed some ice water-filled sponges and stuck them under my kit, redipping them at a few of the aid stations. I kept up the routine of walk and jog, and at the aid stations I followed the same routine nearly every time: eat some GU, drink the ice water, dump the ice into my tri suit somewhere, get some flat cola with ice and drink it, get three to four potato chips or pretzels and try to wash them down with some more water, fill my little plastic bag with ice and stick it in my pocket, then move to the next aid station and repeat.
Once over the Tennessee River, I got to meet a street called Barton. Barton sucked. I foolishly thought that once I walked up it that it would level off and that portion of the loop would be flat. Wrong. It went downhill even longer, then the loop portion had hills. So I walked when it went up, jogged when I went down and made my way around a nice part of Chattanooga. Lots of local crowd support out and about providing music and cheers for everyone.
As I returned back to the other side of the run course to begin the second half, a strange and unexpected feeling started to come over me. I was actually starting to feel strong and felt pretty good. The sun was starting to set and I told myself that I would prefer to get out and start heading back through the trail portion of the course before it got dark. I started picking up the pace, still stopping at the aid stations, but no longer lingering there. I was actually passing people. Actually, no one passed me while I was running that I can remember except for Jeff, but he did that much earlier.
Somewhere around Mile 18, I passed Dave. This was a moment that I had been chasing for four Ironman races now. Dave had beat his brother John, Jeff and me at all of our previous races and I really wanted to savor this moment. But I couldn’t. He was having a tough time. I almost made the decision to just run the rest of the race with him, but now I was no longer last, and Jeff wasn’t far ahead. So Dave and I chatted a little bit and gave each other some encouragement, and I began the task of chasing down Jeff.
Jeff started the race after Dave and me, so I knew I had a headstart on him, but how much of a headstart I didn’t really know. I figured about five minutes or so, but in reality, it was more like 20 minutes. I didn’t know it, but there weren’t really enough miles left in the race to make that up unless he walked and I kept up my now great pace.
Around Mile 23.5 I saw him ahead of me in the pitch dark. I thought maybe I could sneak past him like I tried to do in Louisville, but at that point, it was really just him and me on that road section. I caught him and gave him an emphatic “GUNNERS!” and we ran together and chatted until the next aid station, where we both walked and got our fluids and fuel and stopped at the port-o-potty. Barton was ahead of us and Jeff said he was walking it. I ran up it. I ran up it and felt great. I ran down it and felt great. I decided that I could skip that last aid station and motor on back in. Then Jeff passed me back. DAMMIT! We had a mile or so to go, but he ran out of gas and I passed him back. I tried to get him to run with me, but I think he was being nice and let me finish ahead of him. He knew that he had a better overall time and was in no way going to lose it in the final stretch. But I put down the hammer anyway, shifted into high gear and practically sprinted my way into the finisher chute, extremely glad to be done with this race.
One last note: Ironman Chattanooga run course was without a doubt the toughest marathon I have ever run. Hands down.
All five of us were able to beat the heat at Ironman Chattanooga. I’m so proud of my teammates and what we were able to accomplish.
ALEX – 12:44:30
JEFF – 13:25:11
DAVE – 13:58:23
JAN – 15:51:22
A couple others of note from the running club: Charlie trained his ass off and I marveled at his bike rides he would post throughout the summer. Unfortunately, Charlie came down with a stomach bug the day before the race and was in no shape to attempt the race on a super hot day. He was at the finish line and he told me what was going on and I felt awful for him. But he’s a prior experienced Ironman finisher and I hear he’s got another race coming up soon. And Charlie’s training partner Casey is also from the running club and took on Chattanooga for her first and crushed it in a little over 12 hours. That is impressive to do on such a hard course and a super hot day. Very impressive.
Many thanks to go around. First, as always, I’m super appreciative to have such a loving and supportive wife who encourages me and puts up with my crazy adventures. I can’t imagine doing these Ironmans without your love and help. These finishes are powered by your love. Thank you, Kari.
To my son Ben, who took time off from work to fly to Chattanooga and chase us guys around in 95-degree temps, thank you very much. You make me proud.
To my Gunner teammates Alex, Dave, Jeff, and Jan! Truly a pleasure sharing this lifelong memory with you.
Carla once again came through for us on the lodging and cheering. It’s an incredible relief to not have to worry about hotels and the stuff you arrange for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
To Maxwell and Zachary, thanks for being good sons to your dad and providing some entertainment and distraction from the nervousness of the Ironman circus. Maxwell is a champion cheerer on the run course. Always has been. And many thanks to Kennedy for watching those two goofs and cheering us on.
Jill, you are one of the most cheerful people out there. Thanks for providing us with that lift every race.
To my coworkers who put up with my whining about training and bragging about Ironman. Hey, that’s what an Ironman does. Suffer for 140.6 miles, brag for a lifetime. A special thanks to Julie, who in spite of dealing with a flooded basement, still found the time to track me and watch me finish live online. Even sent me a screenshot. Thank you!
And thanks once again to my super fan Carl, who greets me every day with “GOOD MORNING IRONMAN!” You take a sincere interest in my pursuit of this dumb sport, and I truly appreciate it. I tried my best to spell out CARL in a “YMCA” fashion at the finish line. I hope that you caught that. It’s not easy to do after 144.6 miles in God awful heat.
I do dumb things. Not all the time, but when it comes to running I can make some terrible choices. This week I decided to race a local half-marathon, two weeks away from Ironman Chattanooga. Typically this would be a time to reduce mileage and intensity and coast into the “A” race feeling good and raring to go. My Ironman plan called for a 2-hour run for Sunday, and even though I had already decided that racing would be a bad idea, I went ahead and signed up for it anyway. This race benefits the local high school foundation and so I didn’t mind contributing to that cause. I figured that I would push comfortably hard, and if I sensed that I was overdoing it or possibly straining myself too much, I would dial it back and coast it home. Ha! On with the race!
I woke up to an absolutely beautiful day, temps in the mid-50’s with low humidity and hardly any noticeable wind. Perfect running day. I met up with my son Ben and did some pre-race chatting with him and then got ready.
The first three miles of this race are basically flat, and I felt awesome. I was floating along and at the 3-mile mark, I noticed my watch had a 22-minute split, which I felt would have been a pretty good 5K time! It wasn’t long until we hit the hills of the nature preserve.
The course is on my typical training route so I knew what to expect. I planned to take it easy up the hills and take advantage of the downhills. My first mistake was taking a gel right around the 4-mile mark, which was the beginning of one of the big climbs. I struggled to breathe as I was trying to swallow that junk. A little of it seemed to lodge in the back of my throat which caused me some irritation that lasted the duration of the race. It wasn’t killing me, but it certainly was annoying.
It was also about this time that I realized that I was once again the caboose of the front pack of racers. All the speedsters were ahead of me and I was bringing up the rear. Not a soul behind me that I could see. So I focused on keeping up with the group of three runners right ahead of me and tried to keep a steady pace.
Around mile seven I started to catch the group of three that had been ahead of me, but they then started to pull away. It was still way too early for me to start any sort of kick, so I just tried to keep them in sight. Around 9.5-miles into it I caught one of them and started working on the rest. By mile ten I found myself pacing behind another runner wearing an Ironman visor and I ran with him to see how he was feeling. I had just taken my last of three gels and the energy was starting to come back. I said to him lets get that guy ahead of us but he couldn’t go with me, so I started reeling in Mr. Pink Shoes. As I was working on that guy I could hear what I thought was the Ironman visor guy catching up with me, but when he passed me it was another guy that had caught me and was pulling ahead. I told him to “go get it” and he put some space on me. As we came to the big hill going over Route 45, I pulled him back in and we both passed Mr. Pink Shoes guy. I used the downhill after cresting the bridge to kick hard with about a half-mile or so to go and it seemed neither of those two guys had any kick left. I crossed the finish pretty much with no one in front of me and no one right behind me. I’ll take that.
Ben finishing in 2nd place
Repping FNRC and bringing it home
So, did the decision to race this close to an Ironman kill me? No. It was still not in my best interest to run it, but I’m glad I trusted my instincts and ran the race. Racing may not be the main reason I run, but it’s up there.
Third time racing in Manteno and I am sure I will be back again. I have done this race two times before and it is super fun. It’s a great way to start a Saturday.
I talked with some of the great people I know from FNRC who were there to do the race, then I got my transition area set up and had Kari snap a picture and then it was time to get ready to race.
SWIM:400 Yards, 9:45, 4th in A/G, 57th Overall
I don’t bother bringing the wetsuit to transition for this race because the past two years it has been a non-wetsuit race. I found the water to be pretty warm and comfortable during the brief pre-race swim. I waited for our silver cap wave to start and then waded into the water.
Two things usually occur for me when I start a triathlon swim: I either freak out about the pace, start hyperventilating, and then pray that I will finish this swim, or I will start thinking about my bike strategy. After passing around the one turn buoy, I found myself thinking about the bike. Much better than thinking about drowning. I must have been swimming at a good pace.
I swam strong and as I sighted into the sun for the Swim Out exit, I pushed the pace a little harder. I was a little surprised that I was a little slower this year than last year, but not too bad of a swim for me.
T1: 1:07, 2nd in A/G, 29th Overall
I ran pretty quick to my bike and messed around with socks, again. This time was a little better because I used the little no-show type socks and they went on pretty quick. I felt a little under pressure because there was someone spectating by the fence watching me go through T1. Maybe they were trying to pick up pointers and learned that wearing socks on the bike is a waste of time.
BIKE: 11 Miles, 30:44, Average speed 21.5 mph, 3rd in A/G, 18th Overall
I had decided while swimming to bike as hard as I could, so I hit it hard out of the gate and quickly pegged my heart rate to the max. It wasn’t long until I realized that I better back off a little, and fortunately, there was a strong tailwind heading out aiding in my bike hard plan. My bike computer was showing 25 mph and I was like – wow, this is fast. I passed a couple of riders who were just a little slower, but a lot younger than me. Whenever I pass someone I always wonder if the gauntlet that I am throwing down will be picked up and have my face slapped with it. This time I did get passed back by these two riders just before the first turnaround before the third mile. But here’s where they ran into trouble. The first guy did this hairpin u-turn in a hard gear and struggled to get back up to speed while I had planned for that and easily passed him again. The other guy was a little more ahead of me but his issue was he was riding a road bike and we were now riding into a pretty strong headwind with me taking full advantage of being on an aero bike and riding with a full rear disc wheel. My speedometer was showing 18 mph now. I passed him and I figured if he lasted this pace he might catch me on the run because he looked pretty fit. I never saw the other guy again. This is where aero makes all the difference.
T2: 0:46, 2nd in A/G, 18th Overall
I forgot to hit my Lap button on my watch but I realized it right as I was running out with my visor and race belt in my hand. The reason I forget is mainly due to my hands being busy holding the handlebars of my bike and I would have issues if I tried messing with my watch while running with my bike. But in the end, it was one of my fastest bike-to-run transitions.
RUN:3.1 miles, 22:06, 7:07 per mile pace ave., 1st in A/G, 16th Overall
I settled into a comfortable pace and tried to keep working on catching the next runner ahead of me. Within the first half-mile, the guy that I had passed twice on the bike caught me and passed me hard. There was no way I could go at that pace. He was moving. The running was going well. At the first aid station, I grabbed a cup of water and threw it on me, which startled the little kid that handed it to me. I did manage to grab another and get a quick drink. I did the same thing at the second aid station and got a similar reaction from the teen that handed it to me. #winning
At about 2.5 miles into the 5K, I saw my nemesis – Michael B. – ahead of me. I was catching him. But at the next turn, he took a look back and saw me and then the race was on. I was slowly reeling him in, but as we passed the 3-mile mark, I had nothing left and he crossed the line four seconds ahead of me. I had spoken with him before the race and asked him if he was “going to kick my butt again.” He started in with some lame excuse about some lame running injury and I just said to keep your excuses, Mr. Soul Crusher. I wonder where I could have saved four seconds? He’s a much faster swimmer than I am, we are pretty even on the bike, and I was a minute and a half faster on the run. Then it dawned on me – socks.