My first attempt at doing an ultramarathon distance running event will have to wait, as the race director has informed us that the officials in the town and county in which our event is being held have told him that he cannot have the event at this time. In a world that has been overrun by a virus that no one really knows enough about, caution must be exercised to avoid a fate worse than the pandemic that has already been declared.
The race director has given us a ray of hope, however, by informing us that the race isn’t canceled but rather postponed until late October. That made me feel a lot better about this dumb running event because I wasn’t really prepared for it as I would have liked. After overdoing it in the fall with an Ironman, a marathon, and a couple of local road races in a span of a month and a half, I needed to give my 56-year-old legs a break rather than continue to beat them up. I had created an ultra training plan and then kept editing it down in mileage after my persistent leg injury just wouldn’t heal. I finally got it down to what was similar to a marathon training plan, but I was still cutting runs short and running slower to make sure that I could at least get to the starting line of this dumb idea. After going up to Beloit and running three loops of the course I felt pretty good about having a good chance of at least reaching my goal of getting over 50K.
So maybe I might be better off running the race in the fall and take advantage of a full summer of training. But then I checked the calendar and see that the new race date falls on October 23, 2020, twelve days after Ironman Louisville. At first, I thought that the new race date might be too close to the Ironman for me to have enough time to recover, but I think I might be alright. My current plan is to now train for the Ironman for the next 30 weeks since I have made it my “A” race, and then take the days leading up to the ultramarathon event very easy or off and show up being adequately prepared. One thing I have learned about Ironman training is that it will get me ready for anything.
See you in October for the Big Hill Bonk – Last Runner Standing!
BIG HILL BONK – 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.
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.
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.
BIG HILL BONK – LAST RUNNER STANDING TRAINING REPORT
I’ve been pretty quiet about my training for this dumb running event so I thought I would write a quick update on how everything is going.
To recap, the dumb running event I signed up for is called “The Big Hill Bonk – Last Runner Standing” and consists of 100 runners lining up at 5:30 pm on a Friday night in early April in Beloit, Wisconsin to run 4.16-mile loops, one hour at a time until everyone quits except one last runner. That runner will be required to run one more 4.16-mile loop and will then be declared the “winner” of this dumb running event. As a reminder, I will not be that runner. Based on the results of other Last Runner Standing format races, I’m guessing the winner will more than likely last between 150 and 200 miles. I will most certainly “bonk” way before the last runner does. So the whole challenge for me to run this dumb running event is to see if I can get to a distance that qualifies as an “ultramarathon” distance, typically 50K (about 31 miles) and run farther than I ever have run before.
When I signed up for this dumb running event in May 2019, I was training for my fourth Ironman and feeling pretty good. Then I did the Ironman, followed it up with a marathon a couple weeks later, raced an 8-mile race pretty hard and finished in the top 10, and then ran a turkey trot on Thanksgiving Day. Suddenly, after two months of pushing myself, I wasn’t feeling so good anymore. My muscles ached, my flexibility was gone, and in general, I was in need of some serious recovery time. Then the back of my leg behind the knee area started to hurt, especially after running, so I self-diagnosed myself with the worst possible running injury and decided to cool it for a while. I took some time off and worked on making my leg feel better.
I had gifted my son a muscle massage gun for Christmas and he and his running partner/girlfriend raved about it, so I thought it might help me as well. Then I remembered how much those suckers cost and wondered if there was a cheaper option. I saw a post online about someone saying they had built their own version of a massage gun out of a jigsaw and a lacrosse ball with an adapter. After looking at a few do-it-yourself videos, I figured I had nothing to lose. After finding the jigsaw on Amazon, I discovered some smarter than me entrepreneurs had already come up with a set of four massage end pieces and a couple of adapters that you could buy and not have to build your own. So for a little more than $100, I had myself a cheap, albeit LOUD, muscle massager.
I had to re-edit my training plan a few times to give me some extra rest to recover from the sore leg issues, so some of the high mileage weeks that I had originally planned for were removed. The plan now more resembles a typical marathon training plan and will have to do.
Slowing down my running tempo and massaging and stretching really helped my leg feel better, so I think I will be prepared enough to at least make a good attempt at reaching my goal for this dumb running event. I’ve got about 5 weeks left to train and hopefully will see some good running weather soon. I hate running in the cold and on the treadmill.
A couple of things I have learned so far:
Although I have been feeling pretty good while running, I had been finishing the last mile or two of my long runs feeling pretty wiped out. I realized that I hadn’t been taking any nutrition with me for runs bordering 1.5 to 2 hours in length. No wonder I was feeling so wiped out at the end. I haven’t been bringing hydration with me either. Time to correct those mistakes.
My midweek training run this week called for a 10 to 12-mile run. It was cold outside and I was dreading that as well as having to run inside. But then I thought “Why not do a practice run-through of the dumb running event format on the treadmill instead of a straight 10-miler?” So that’s what I did. I ran 4.16 miles at 9:22 min/mile and finished in 39 minutes. Then I sat around on a bench with sweat dripping off of me for twenty minutes. My plan for the dumb running event was to run about this pace and give myself some rest and recovery time, but now I’m not so sure that’s a great idea. As that twenty minutes of rest ended, I hopped back on the treadmill and held the same pace again for another 4.16 miles. I quickly realized that I now smell pretty bad. I’m not sure I want to run with myself smelling like B.O. for another 4.16 miles, but I pressed on. At the end of that loop, I took a bathroom break and then changed into a clean and dry shirt and visor. I also put some deodorant on and felt much better about myself. I did one more 4.16-mile loop and added just a little extra to finish with a total of 12.5 miles. I really felt dehydrated after that workout and spent the rest of the afternoon being thirsty and trying to drink more fluids. It was a worthwhile workout, though. I learned that I will stink after one loop and that I better drink more.
I saw a post on the Facebook page for this dumb running event that mentioned a group run to get a preview of the course that we will be running on. I clicked that I would attend and look forward to getting in some practice running on that particular trail. My plan calls for a 16-mile run that day, so four loops of the course would be the plan. I’ll see what my friend Jodi has planned for that day and play it by ear. We may carpool up there. I wonder how she will feel about smelling my sweaty self in a car for a couple hours driving back home.
Ironman Louisville training is supposed to start in the second week of March, but I think that I will just let the first few weeks slide, finish my dumb running event, give myself some time to recover and then jump into the plan on whatever training week of the 30-weeks I’m supposed to be on.
So there you have it. If I find something interesting to post in the upcoming weeks I will certainly do so. Lastly, there are less than ten spots left in this dumb running event. Why not join me and sign up? It’ll be fun!
I had another great year of running and creating memorable moments in 2019. So very thankful that I can still do what I enjoy doing and reflecting back on the memories I made. I have kept track of my running miles since 1989, so I only tally up the number of runs, miles, and time spent running in my stats. Here’s how 2019 went for me with running and triathlon.
JANUARY – Not much to reflect upon here. Most were treadmill runs and nothing out of the ordinary.
Total Runs: 14
Average Weekly Miles: 22.4
Total Hours: 11.8
Total Miles: 89.5
FEBRUARY– Another winter month to get through and focus on recovery.
Total Runs: 10
Average Weekly Miles: 15
Total Hours: 9
Total Miles: 60
MARCH– Ironman Chattanooga training begins! I chose to be a little loose with the training this time around starting out by following the “Just Finish” plan but then decided to commit to the competitive plan like usual. I did drop the swimming down considerably, mostly just doing two 45-minute swims per week. The monthly totals for March reflect what miles the beginning stages of the plan prescribes, plus some time off for a trip to Nashville to see some colleges with Rebecca.
Total Runs: 12
Average Weekly Miles: 12.1
Total Hours: 7
Total Miles: 48.3
APRIL– Weekly training going well, as long as I don’t ruin things for myself. For example – I’m My Own Worst Enemy
Total Runs: 16
Average Weekly Miles: 23.8
Total Hours: 14
Total Miles: 95
MAY– Still swim/bike/run training and getting into the swing of things.
Total Runs: 18
Average Weekly Miles: 24.8
Total Hours: 13.3
Total Miles: 99
JUNE– I officially kicked off the racing season this month with a 5K and a sprint triathlon in June. (See below for the race reports.)
Total Runs: 20
Average Weekly Miles: 30
Total Hours: 17.5
Total Miles: 119
JULY– Time for a vacation and some more racing!
Total Runs: 20
Average Weekly Miles: 33
Total Hours: 19.5
Total Miles: 130
AUGUST– It got hot just as the training ramped up big time.
Total Runs: 19
Average Weekly Miles: 38.4
Total Hours: 23.4
Total Miles: 154
SEPTEMBER– September came with the wrapping up of 30-weeks of Ironman training and racing a very hot 2019 Ironman Chattanooga. Even with the heat and all the suffering, it was an epic day.
Total Runs: 19
Average Weekly Miles: 36.7
Total Hours: 22.5
Total Miles: 146.6
OCTOBER– I debated with myself as to whether I should defer the Chicago Marathon to 2020 seeing that it was two weeks after Ironman Chattanooga, but I committed to it and decided to see if I could parlay all that Ironman training into another Boston Marathon qualifier. I did! But not by much.
Total Runs: 15
Average Weekly Miles: 24
Total Hours: 13.5
Total Miles: 95.7
NOVEMBER– Looking back at 2018, November 2019 was almost a mirror image in terms of the stats below. I ran a couple of races, which probably did more damage to me than good.
Total Runs: 13
Average Weekly Miles: 21
Total Hours: 12
Total Miles: 84
DECEMBER– I paid for the four races I did, which ended up causing me some weird leg left leg/knee pain. I never had pain in the rear portion of the leg/knee area before. It wouldn’t hurt during the run really, but afterward, I would have some dull pain that would linger. I would rest it a few days and then feel fine only to go back out and get the same result. I decided to shut down running on December 26th for the rest of the year.
Total Runs: 12
Average Weekly Miles: 17.9
Total Hours: 11
Total Miles: 71.5
2019 RUNNING TOTALS
Total Runs: 188
Average Weekly Miles: 25
Total Hours: 174.5
Total Miles: 1193.2
LIFETIME RUNNING TOTALS (31st Year of Running)
Total Lifetime Runs: 4777 – 154 runs per year average
Total Lifetime Hours: 3509.5 – 113 hours per year average
Total Lifetime Miles: 26188 – 844 miles per year average
2019 RACE REPORTS
I had a pretty successful year racing again, getting some more age group and finisher medals to add to my collection. Here are the summaries with a link to the race recaps.
2019 Minocqua Turkey Trot 5K: 21:16 Official time / 13th Overall / 12th Place Male Overall / 1st Place M50-59 Age Group – 2019 Minocqua Turkey Trot 5K
I think I had a pretty good year with triathlon. Ironman training went well and ended with a very good effort on an extremely hot day in Chattanooga. And I medaled in the other two sprint tri’s that I did, which is always the goal. I’m really looking forward to another year of racing.
SWIM TOTALS: Total Swims: 34 / Total Distance: 69,461 yards (39.5 miles)
BIKE TOTALS: Total Rides: 132 / Total Miles: 3694
GOALS FOR 2020
In May I registered for a race that had piqued my interest. The race is called the “Big Hill Bonk” (read about it here: My First Ultramarathon?) and is in Beloit, Wisconsin in early April 2020. It’s an elimination/last runner standing type race format in which you run a 4.16-mile loop in an hour and keep doing that until only one runner is left. So this run could be my first ultramarathon if I decide to keep going past eight loops. I was training pretty well for it and starting to build some decent weekend long run miles, but the leg/knee injury thing has screwed up my training. I think I will still be able to get to the starting line and get in enough loops to push me over 50K.
I decided to take a year off from running the Chicago Marathon. I have legacy status, so I should be able to sign up again in 2020 for the 2021 race if I want to. My Gunner teammates and I were discussing doing another Ironman in 2020, but I’m not sure how serious everyone is. We’re at the point that we have done the races nearest to us and may to commit to traveling farther to do a different race, or just sign up for one we have already done. A lot of the fun in doing them is experiencing a new race locale. I hear that Ironman is returning to Idaho in 2021, so I definitely have it on my must-do list. If the Gunners shoot for another go-around I will definitely be in. I just have to fit it around getting my youngest off to college. I’m not missing that.
If the Ironman thing doesn’t pan out and I survive the Big Hill Bonk run, I may look to sign up for a 100-mile ultramarathon. I have a local friend who is fond of the Tunnel Hill 100 Miler in southern Illinois, but I have also eyed the Hennepin 100 race out by Sterling, Illinois. We’ll see. Got to get some experience first.
I may have signed up for my first ultramarathon. May have, you ask? Oh, I definitely put my name, age, sex and credit card number in the online entry form and hit submit. And my name officially appears on the list of participants. And I for sure plan on being in the field of the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing race on Friday, April 3, 2020, in Beloit, Wisconsin at 5:30 pm. So what is the confusion? Let me explain.
There’s a guy in Tennessee that goes by the name of Lazarus Lake. That’s not his real name, but that’s not important. Laz, as he is called, is the brainchild of a race called the Barkley Marathons, also known as the “race that eats its young.” That particular race has people running through the hills of the Smokey Mountains for 100 miles in five 20-mile or so segment loops, and very few people even finish it. It’s legendary and well worth watching the documentary if you haven’t seen it. Highly entertaining. But if the Barkley wasn’t enough to keep Laz busy, he decided to create another race called Big’s Backyard Ultra. Big is his dog. It’s his backyard. You run through it. A 4.166-mile loop every hour. And then you do it again. And again. And again. And again until there is only one runner left. The last runner standing who finishes a solo loop in an hour after everyone else has dropped out is the winner. Everyone else is a loser. Actually, everyone else is declared a “DNF” – Did Not Finish. For the first time in my racing and running lifetime, I will be a DNF. Unless I outlast everyone else. That’s not very likely. The most recent winner of Big’s Backyard Ultra ran somewhere around 250 miles. Three days of running. I’m 56 years old and kind of know my limitations. I won’t last that long. I will be a DNF.
The overwhelmingly positive response to the Big’s Backyard Ultra in the ultra-running community has spawned other races, not just in the United States, but all over the world. Many act as qualifying races for Laz’s race. Actually, to gain entry into his race, now considered the “World Championship” you have to get a golden ticket, which is actually a gold coin with Big’s picture on it, and it’s only given out to the winner of the other Laz sponsored races. I won’t get one because I will be a DNF. I’m not even sure I will get a t-shirt out of this.
So, if I am not going to be the winner, and I am not going to even be listed as a finisher, and I’m not getting a t-shirt, then why the hell am I doing this? Because it sounds awesome.
Three decades of running has taken me from getting around the block once, to dropping a couple of pounds to fit into my pants again, to racing local races, to running marathons, to giving triathlons and Ironman a try, to… My point is that even though running eventually became part of the fabric of my life, it gets a little boring after a while, and you begin setting new goals and seeking out new adventures. I’ve had ultras in the back of my mind for a long time, but I was always fairly content with marathons and Ironmans, which were plenty of a challenge for me. But now I’m looking to explore a little more of what running has to offer before I get too old to experience it or enjoy it. This race format popped up on my radar and I became intrigued.
What’s the draw of this race for me to get my first experience going past 26.2 miles? Well, it’s unique for one. Ultras usually have set distances – 31 miles or 50K being the typical minimum, 50 miles, 62 miles/100K, and 100 miles. Pick one of them and run it. The race format for a last runner standing race is very much open-ended. Is there a finish line? Well, yeah – sort of. You cross it every loop, but then it immediately becomes 4.166 miles away again. There’s really only one finish line, and that’s the one that the winner crosses – alone. Again, probably not going to be me. In this race, you could choose to get to any number of miles and then quit. Or try to last for 24 hours before dropping. It’s up to you how far you want to push yourself. If I last 10 loops and get in 41.6 miles, that might do it for me.
Another factor for me is that it comes in manageable 4.166-mile segments. Why 4.166-mile loops? I was puzzled by the length of the loop too, thinking it was just another quirky aspect of Laz’s brilliance. But in actuality, 4.166 X 24 hours = 100 miles in 24 hours. So if you run twenty-four, 4.166-mile loops you will end up with 100 miles in a day. What is nice about the distance is that it is something most runners can wrap their heads around. Running a little more than 4 miles is no big deal. Running 4.166 miles in an hour is really no big deal. That’s like averaging around 14 minutes per mile. Anyone who runs should be able to get through that in an hour.
Toss in that it’s fairly local for me, being only a couple of hours away, and that I feel pretty fit from all of the triathlon and marathon training I have done, it was easy for me to sign up.
So, will this be my first ultramarathon or not? It’s still a valid question in my mind. In the past, I have learned that I don’t do as well running spring marathons because I don’t train as well in the winter months in the Midwest as I do in the summer months for a fall marathon. I’m always more fit in the fall than in the spring. Secondly, I have no idea how to train for this race. I’ve searched for training plans specific to this type of event and there really aren’t any. Most trail and ultra runners just treat it like a normal ultramarathon, and they train as usual and race the event as if they are running a typical ultramarathon. Which brings me to another issue: pacing the run. From what I can tell, most will try to plan to finish each 4.166-mile loop a little under one hour, leaving themselves just enough time to use the toilet, eat something, change some clothes if necessary, and then get back to the starting line for the next loop. Ultrarunners know how to pace themselves, i.e. they run slow. Very slow. Sometimes they walk. They know that fast tempos early will lead to some very sore and tired legs much sooner than they would like. I’m a runner. I can run 4.166 miles easily around 9 min/mile. That will leave me with about 20 minutes to sit around and wait for the next lap. That was my initial plan, but now I’m thinking that might be a bad idea. Will taking a 20-minute rest in a chair in between the hourly loops be an asset to me or be a really bad idea?
One last thing I need to emphasize is that this race, in particular, begins at 5:30 pm. That time of day in April will most likely be getting near dark. Sunset is at 7:25 pm. I Googled it. I will be running the majority of this run through the woods in the dark. I’m not very experienced at that and sleep deprivation isn’t something I handle very well. I got a feeling there will be a lot of caffeine involved in my nutrition and hydration planning.
April weather in Beloit can be anything, but I’m guessing it will be cool and possibly wet. I need to plan for all kinds of weather and be prepared.
Also on my mind about this race is what are my goals? Since I’m pretty sure I probably won’t outlast the field, what do I want to get out of it? Here are a couple of my main goals:
Do enough loops to make it past 31 miles/50K and satisfy the minimum ultramarathon distance. That should be no big deal. It’s just a few miles longer than a normal marathon. But the real goal will be to make it to 100 miles.
Don’t be the first to drop. I have looked at other race results and found races where there are plenty of dropouts after 1-2 laps. I don’t want to be that guy.
Make it through the night. Okay, this is going to be a challenge. I hope I can stay awake because most nights I’m asleep by 10 pm.
Meet some cool people and enjoy the company. It will be interesting to see how others approach the race and learn from them.
Stay out of the hospital. I’ve visited the medical tents of past races and even though I have gained the knowledge needed to prevent the need to go there, I still sometimes push myself a little too hard. This race will be new territory and I will really need to focus on how I am feeling.
I have a lot of questions yet to find answers to while I train the remaining four months for this race. I will keep looking for insight and reading race reports to find the nuggets of information that I am looking for.
So did I actually sign up for my first ultramarathon? Maybe. It depends. I don’t know. We’ll see. Hopefully, I did. Possibly.
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.
For my 19th time, I hereby do declare I WILL NEVER RUN ANOTHER MARATHON AGAIN! This time I MEAN IT!
This Chicago Marathon will definitely go down as one of my most memorable. The race was my third long distance race this year that was run in the rain. It brought back memories of Boston last April, cool temps, wind and rain. This was a light version of Boston though. The temperature was near 60 degrees instead of 40, and the rain wasn’t pouring. The wind was only noticeable when running certain directions, and only briefly. Thankfully, Boston taught me how to manage crappy running weather, but you can never be fully prepared. And it turns out I’m not sure I was fully prepared for this one.
I was looking forward to running Chicago, as my son was going to be running it as his first marathon. Notice I didn’t say that we would be running it together. He’s fast, I’m not. Well, not as fast as he is anyway. But I looked forward to sharing that experience together.
Here’s the lowdown on how the Chicago Marathon went for me.
After finishing the Boston Marathon I needed to give my body a break. I was beat. I showed up at Boston way overtrained and worn out. The day after Boston I ended my three year running streak of running at least a mile everyday, and told myself I had to get myself right again.
After a trip to the doctor, I learned what I was kind of assuming, that I had thyroid issues. Blood tests confirmed it, and now I’m taking a synthetic thyroid medication for the rest of my life. I had thought that it might change things for me metabolically, but my doctor buddy said not to expect miracles. He was right. I really struggled to lose the ten pounds I had gained over the winter and spring. Eventually, I did drop a few pounds, but nothing like what I had expected. One positive was that I wasn’t as tired as I had been before, so that is a plus.
In mid-June I began following the same 16-week advanced training plan that I usually use. I also had been doing some triathlon related training, hoping to throw in a couple of races before the longer mileage weeks started to kick in. I ended up doing a sprint triathlon in June and the Chicago Triathlon in August.
I was a little nervous about the training after struggling with the Boston training and the race itself, but it actually went pretty well. The highlight for me was the 20 mile training run I did three weeks out from the race. I was able to hold my 8 min/mile pace fairly easily through that run and it really gave me a confidence boost. You can read about it here: The Dreaded 20 Mile Training Run
I took Friday off and headed to Chicago to attend the expo with Ben and his girl friend Emily. Every year that I had gone to the expo I would see proud Boston finishers parading around in their Boston Marathon jackets and be somewhat envious. This year, even though I didn’t really need a jacket, I decided I was going to peacock the hell out my one Boston Marathon finish and sport that damn jacket at the expo. I wasn’t alone. I saw numerous Boston 2018 celebration jackets.
We ended up getting there around midday, and man was it crazy! I had never seen it so crowded before.
Ben and I got our bibs and started the trek through the expo. We ended up spending money on mostly disappointing official Nike marathon gear and other odds and ends. We caught a glimpse of Deena Kastor and then decided to get out of there. The expo can be overwhelming after awhile.
Saturday, we all met downtown in the late afternoon and met at our hotel, the Chicago Palmer House Hilton. The hotel lobby was impressive, the rooms not so much. It’s location to the race start area was ideal, but a little bit of a hike from the finish. The Chicago Hilton is a better option for being closer to the finish, but I didn’t book it fast enough and had to settle for the Palmer House. I will say there were better dining options nearby, and I opted for the Corner Bakery and got some loaded baked potato soup and bread for an evening carb load. I had already eaten some pasta at home around 1 pm, so I think I had enough carb loading for the day.
Ben and I talked some race day strategy and I laid out my options for what to wear in the race. I had already kind of chosen the outfit, but I had brought some options in case I changed my mind.
Sleep went well except for a weird moment in the middle of the night where I found myself sweating like crazy. I got up, used the bathroom, and went back to sleep. The alarm finally went off, and I got myself ready for the day.
Ben met me at the room and after some last minute assurances, we decided it was time to head to the corrals.
We were advised to go into the corrals by entering into a specific gate based on our corral assignments, but I wasn’t having any of that. The first and closest gate was at Jackson and we got in line. Just as we were getting near the inspection point this Chinese guy cuts in front of us. Then he couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let him carry in his sling bag because only the clear plastic gear bag was allowed. Fortunately, they let him put it into his gear bag, which he should have done in the first place. Off to a great start, but we weren’t done with him yet. As you pass security, there are event photographers ready to take your pre-race photo, so Ben and I decided to do so. Just after the guy takes our picture, we realize the guy photobombed us.
I’m smiling in the photo, but I was laughing right after it when I realized he was in the photo too! Here’s one without Mr. E10796:
Ben and I got to the split where Corrals A and B went one way and C through E went another. I told him that I loved him and that I was proud of him and that I don’t tell him that enough. We hugged and I headed straight to the toilets.
Once in the corral I found it pretty empty as I was there pretty early. So I headed to the front of it to the rope that separates the C corral from D and just hung out. I used my portable urinal (my nearly empty Gatorade bottle) under my plastic bag three times before the race started which surprised me, as I had used the port-o-lets twice before getting into my corral. Nerves I guess. After the anthem the start horn blew and I pulled the plastic garbage bag off and tossed the bag and bottle over the fence, and we started the 7 minute shuffle to the start line. Ben said he crossed the line within 10 seconds. It took me 7:18 to cross it. I gave him a head start.
Start to 5K: Overall Time: 0:25:12 / Ave. Pace 8:07 min/mile
I started off well and felt pretty strong, although my first split was about 8:15 min/mile which surprised me a little. It is hard to concentrate on pace right at the start because we are still packed tight a little, and you spend more time getting through the field than thinking about pace. It was in that first half mile that my Garmin lost track of me as we were under Randolph Street and Wacker Drive and put my split a couple of tenths off at each subsequent mile marker. Ben was going to hit his lap button every mile, but I’m done with that business. I had decided I was warm enough without my homemade tube sock arm warmers and stuck them in my shorts in case I needed them again.
Our Cheer Crew was amazing. Kari and Rebecca, along with our friends Jeff and Jill were there, plus Emily and a couple of Ben’s running buddies from Loras College braved the wet day to cheer us on. Although I had told Kari to stick with Ben, I saw Jeff and Jill up through the half way point, and then Jeff at a few other spots. Seeing everyone was always a big pick-me-up.
5K to 10K: Overall time: 0:49:03 / 5K Split: 0:24:31 / Ave. Pace 7:54 min/mile
It was raining pretty steady now but I wasn’t cold really. I managed to get my pace under 8 minute miles and was feeling good. Nothing out of the ordinary through here, just still going north.
10K to 15K: Overall time: 1:14:29 / 5K Split: 0:24:27 / Ave. Pace 7:59 min/mile
Miles 6 through 9 really had nothing remarkable about them. Right about the 10K mark the 3:25 pace group went by me and I took note of that. I usually see an Elvis impersonator through this stretch, but I’m guessing that he wasn’t into the rain this year. I did start to sense I was getting a blister on my left pinky toe from my shoes being soaked. That was a little surprising because I had lubed up my toes very well. Kept my average pace near 8 min/miles.
15K to 20K: Overall time: 1:39:55 / 5K Split: 0:25:26 / Ave. Pace 8:11 min/mile
As I neared the halfway point, I started to tell I was slowing a little. The effort was getting harder even though I was on top of my nutrition plan. I felt okay, but that would change as I passed the halfway point.
Halfway: Overall Time: 1:45:42 / Ave. Pace 8:29 min/mile
I hit the halfway and felt not so great. I was only 45 seconds over my intended split of 1:45:00 for the half, but I knew that I was losing it. My average pace dropped from 8 to 8:30 min/mile and I really didn’t see how I was going to maintain it.
Halfway to 25K: Overall Time: 2:06:32 / Split: 0:20:51 / Ave. Pace 8:36 min/mile
At the 14 mile area I saw Jeff and Jill and said I wasn’t feeling good any longer. It seemed like I was being drained of my energy. We had just passed a couple little inclines downtown, but I don’t think that was a factor. I was starting to realize that this was going to be a get to the finish line in one piece marathon for me. My time goal of 3:30 was slipping away.
25K to 30K: Overall Time: 2:34:01 / 5K Split: 0:27:30 / Ave. Pace 8:51 min/mile
I generally call this section the Dead Zone and it was no different this year. It’s mainly just runners along this portion as it is the farthest west part of the course. I will say though, that I expected the rain to drive away the crowds this year and in reality, the course was pretty populated with cheering fans. My time is creeping closer to the 9 min/mile average.
30K to 35K: Overall Time: 3:03:47 / 5K Split: 0:29:46 / Ave. Pace 9:35 min/mile
Running through Pilsen and Chinatown are highlights of the race usually, but not this time. I just wanted to get past the 20 mile mark and know I had 10K to go. It was in this section that the 3:30 pace group passed me by like I was standing still. I was resigned that my goal of finishing 3:30 was gone, and I also knew that being sub-3:35 for a Boston Marathon qualifier was pretty much out the door. I was a just finisher now.
35K to 40K: Overall Time: 3:37:22 / 5K Split: 0:33:35 / Ave. Pace 10:49 min/mile
Hello 3:35 pace group. Goodbye 3:35 pace group. I was walking the aid stations now and willing myself to keep moving forward. In 2016 I was passing these zombies, this year I was one of the un-dead. Along this section I did get a pick-me-up though – I saw the guy that is always at Ironman Wisconsin on Old Sauk Pass wearing the orange afro-wig. He was cheering us on here as well. I stopped and said hello to him because we spent some time with him on that course cheering for Jeff and his sister Jan.
40K to the Finish: Overall time: 3:52:07 / Split 0:14:46 / Ave. Pace 10:50 min/mile
I saw Kari and Rebecca waiting for me after the 25 mile mark and I stopped to say hello. Not much longer and I would be done.
I started to press forward and make it up Roosevelt Road and head to the finish. As I was climbing Mount Roosevelt as we marathoners call it, a volunteer said to “Fight up the hill!” I told her I was a lover not a fighter. She laughed and then I heard her yell, “then Love up that hill!”
As I headed toward the finish I heard my name get called out from the stands. I turned to look and saw Calvin Jordan, a fellow runner from New Lenox that I had met this fall. I made a beeline over to him and said hello. I think he thought I was nuts not sprinting for the finish, but I was glad to end the run with a friendly face and hello.
The goal for me was to take advantage of a 10 minute Boston qualifying cushion that I would receive just by turning 55 years old. But in September, the BAA decided to reduce the qualifying times by 5 minutes. So I went from needing a 3:40 marathon to 3:35, which didn’t seem to be out of the possibility for me seeing that I had ran a 3:25 in 2016. But this just wasn’t my year. I wanted to join Ben and Emily in Boston in 2020, but instead of being in the field, I will happily go to be a spectator.
I think my main issue this year was volume, and essentially too much of it for a guy in his mid-fifties. When I finished Boston in April, my body was beat. Everything hurt. So I dropped the 3+ year running streak I had and worked on rebuilding myself. I was really feeling pretty good again come summer, and when I did my 20 mile training run in late September, I held that 8 min/mile pace well. Just wasn’t my year this year.
But I must say I’m very proud of my 3:52:07 finish. Being sub-4 hours is always pretty cool.
Ben made me very proud. He crushed his first marathon in 2:47:11! After the race he seemed like it was just another day of running to him! Not tired at all. The next day I went out and got my Chicago Tribune and saw that he was in the banner photo at the top!
We wrapped up race day back at the Corner Bakery with some hot soup and then headed for home.