What’s My Running Thing?

Sometimes I find myself wondering about people who are highly skilled at something and how they discovered that they were good at it. Maybe more importantly what if they weren’t exposed to the thing that they had become highly skilled at. Would they have been successful at something else? What if Michael Jordan had decided to focus on baseball after being cut from his high school basketball team? What if Yo-Yo Ma had been given a trumpet instead of a cello as a child? What if Eddie Van Halen hadn’t switched from piano and drums to guitar?

I was thinking about my running history the other day and was thinking about how I have found that I am really enjoying running trails and ultra-distance events. These are a new frontier for me and have certainly become a joy of late. Not that I’m any good at either, but it made me wonder what type of runner I really am. I regret that I didn’t have running in my life as a youth. I didn’t run track or cross country, but looking back on those types of running I wish I had experienced some of it. I have tried my hand at many types of running in my adult life and found that I love it all. But what am I best at? What distance or event do I perform best at? I’m not really sure.

Looking at my race results over the years I can see that I’m slightly faster than the average runners, usually placing in the top half of finishers or higher. In races, I almost always find myself alone chasing the faster runners ahead of me and yet gapping the rest of the field. I find that very interesting. It happens in almost every race, including the 25K trail race I did last month. From 5K’s to marathons, that is where I fall.

But of the races I have done, which distance is the one I perform best at? I don’t feel like I have blazing fast 5K speed, yet I can usually win an age group award at it and finish in the top 10% or so in the local races. That’s pretty good I think. My 5K PR is 19:29, which isn’t all that quick. My current average 5K time is over 22 minutes, thanks to getting older. I’ve been fast enough at marathons to qualify for the Boston Marathon three times now. And the nine half-marathons that I have done, all have been 1:40 or under, and I have always thought that to be pretty good. I like to keep the challenge of being under 1:40 going, but as I get older that is going to be difficult. I can’t imagine trying to average 7:30 per mile for 13.1 miles right now.

Maybe short-distance running is my thing. I ran a 5:44 min/mile a couple of years ago. That was an all-out effort and I spent a good chunk of summer and fall prepping myself for that. Or maybe it isn’t a speed thing, but rather a distance challenge that I may personally excel at. I’m currently discovering pushing myself to go farther than I have ever run before and I keep surprising myself each time. Maybe long and slow is the way!

I have heard the term “jack of all trades, master of none” before and maybe that’s the type of runner I am. Maybe I’m just good enough at a variety of distances, but just not ever going to be the top dog at any one of them. I guess there’s some fulfillment in that as a running journey.

What is your best event or distance? Did you know it right away or did it eventually come to you?

(un)Welcome Back!

After giving myself a brief few days to recover from running 41 miles at the Big Hill Bonk event last week, I felt like I was ready to start getting at it again. The weather was not cooperating, however, so I opted for a bike spin on Tuesday. That went okay and seeing that Wednesday was looking good to get outside, I planned a longer ride.

It felt great to toss my leg over the bike again. I hadn’t ridden a bike since Ironman Chattanooga last September, so I was looking forward to spinning the wheels for a while. It didn’t take long to see how out of cycling shape I was. Although I was just trying to take it easy, I was working pretty hard at it. Then my foot started having nerve pain that was very problematic last year. And then the calf cramps kicked in. I pulled the plug and cut the ride short. Not quite the welcome back to cycling that I was hoping for.

The first run after my ultra was a quick 3-miler on the dreadmill. Also not quite the welcome back to running that I had hoped for, but probably the best for me. The weekend came along with some decent enough weather to get outside. I ran eight miles on Saturday with no problems and then ran 11.5 miles on Sunday. Nice and slow and no eagerness to rush anything.

Sunday actually felt like a nice spring day. I can almost feel like winter is finally dying and I might even mow the grass this week. Warm weather would definitely be welcomed back.

Now that the first event of the season is out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about the remainder of running year. I’ll probably dial back the cycling. I’m a little worried about the nerve pain coming back, and once it is there it takes a while to go away. I handled it last year by making some alterations to my insert, adding some padding and loosening my shoe up a bit. I received some gravel-style cycling shoes over Christmas for my gravel bike, which might be more comfortable to use. I just haven’t switched out the pedals for them yet.

The only other races I have on the calendar are the Chicago Marathon in October, and Tunnel Hill 100 in November. Tunnel Hill is my “A” race and the focus. I want to check that 100-mile finish off of the list of running things I have yet to accomplish. Last year I was a little bit undertrained, both physically and mentally. I’ll be putting in some longer miles and spend more time on my feet for it this time. I’ll probably use Chicago for a training run, but I may also give using a run/walk method of running it a try and see if I can fine tune it to get me close to another Boston Marathon qualifier.

Kari and I booked an anniversary trip to Italy at the end of September, early October. It’s a hiking tour and there will be a lot of hiking/walking involved. It comes two weeks before Chicago, but I think it will provide a good taper for me.

I finally feel like I can start building a good base and enjoy a season of running. Welcome back!

Running Stories: My Obsession With Numbers

When I run I have a habit that I think a lot of other runners may share – I have to make sure that it ends on a mile exactly, or the quarter, half, or three-quarter of a mile. A 5K, or 3.1 miles has always made me uneasy. 26.2? Couldn’t they have made it 26.25, or just plain old 26?

When I started training for Ironman the plan I followed had built the cycling and running workouts around time, not distance. That was very tough for me to get used to because I always went for an even-mile run, not a 45-minute or an hour-long run. Fortunately for me, my easier Zone 2 pace is at about a 9 minute/mile, so I would get 5 miles done in 45-minutes. But a 30-minute run would push me over 3 miles. I would usually quit three minutes early, or push a little more to get that extra quarter mile. I never wanted it to be a 2.68-mile run. And if do a run in some unfamiliar place and I get back to where I started on some weird number, you can bet that I would do a little more to get the number I want.

I don’t think I would call myself obsessive about it, it’s just that I used to handwrite my mileage into my running log, and to have those nice numbers made it easier for me to add up at the end of the year. I just got used to it and stuck with running distances ending in x.0, x.25., x.5, or x.75.

The 2010 Chicago Marathon had something going for it in addition to being a world-class marathon. People were excited to be in the field and run through the city. But I think that they were more excited about it being run on October 10. Yes, 10-10-10. I found myself also thinking that it was kind of cool, even though the year was 2010, not 0010. I’m a nitpicker. 10-10-10 was plastered all over the event that year. People were enamored by it, so much so that I remember one person suggesting the marathon for 2011 to be moved from October to September so that the date would read 9-10-11. That didn’t happen. Anyway, I have to admit that running the 10-10-10 Chicago made it a little more memorable for me than any of the other years that I did it.

But this year I am trying to change my old ways. I no longer personally log my mileage into a running log, I let my much smarter Garmin watch and app do all that logging and adding work for me. I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but this year I decided not to obsess over a run ending in zero-point-nine. So far, I have had a 7.16-mile run and one 4.24 miler. Baby steps.

Do you have a weird running thing? Maybe you’re a streaker, running every day? Or maybe your normal looped run route is always done counter-clockwise? I’d love to know.

2021 Running and Triathlon Year in Review

2021 Running and Triathlon Year in Review

Started 2021 with some trail running. Found out I loved running trails.

What a difference a year makes! After just going through the motions last year, running and biking without any racing, it was such a joy to have racing back again in 2021. As I write this, December 2021 is starting to feel more like 2020, and I definitely do not want to go back there, but I think the ship will right itself again.

2021 saw a return to racing for me. I tried to not go overboard with racing, and there were some changes to how things were done, but we were allowed to push ourselves once again.

On the triathlon front, I got in two events – the first being an “off-road” sprint triathlon that was a lot of fun, and resulted in an age-group placing. And I completed my fifth Ironman in Chattanooga with my friends.

The Gunner Gang the morning of Ironman Chattanooga 2021.

It was also a year of new adventures in running for me as I trained for and ran a couple ultra marathons. I found training for the ultras to reinvigorate my passion for running. I also found that going slower can also be fun. I learned quite a bit about myself on those training runs and during the events as well. I’ve already signed up to do the Big Hill Bonk event, as well as another attempt at the Tunnel Hill 100.  I’m an Ultra Runner now!!!

In the spring I began my training for Ironman Chattanooga, which I made my goal “A” race, and would train for the other stuff around that training. Although it prepared me well for the Ironman, I think the training wasn’t quite adequate for the 100-miler, and that became clear to me when I decided to drop at the halfway mark and take the 50-mile finish. I felt no regret about stopping at 50 miles at the time I did it, but it wasn’t long before I was regretting it a little. I will prepare myself with a little more ultra-specific run training and arm myself with what I learned from the race to give it another try in the fall.

Summer saw me entering my first race of the year and first time back at racing since Covid shut down everything in 2020. I was urged by a few of my coworkers to run a local 5K and that was a fun return to road racing. The course was hilly and tough, and the warm day didn’t lend to a great 5K time, but I did okay-ish. Here’s the race report:  2021 Chasing the Sun 5K Race Report

Had some fun swim training with Tom in Lake Michigan.  He’s caught the tri bug.  

Next was a new, local triathlon that was “off-road,” which basically meant it was on a crushed limestone trail for the bike and run. I was excited about that because I got to actually race my gravel bike for the first time. You can read about it here:  The Forge Off-road Triathlon Race Report

Coming out of the water at the Forge Tri.

In August the Big Hill Bonk – Wisconsin’s Backyard Ultra race finally took place after a couple of postponements and it was a ton of fun. This race format of running multiple 4.16 mile loops every hour is still kind of new, so I found myself learning as I ran. And what I learned is that I had a lot of fun running through the woods and into the dark of night. It was a great experience and I look forward to doing it again in April 2022. Eight laps, or “yards” netted me 33 total miles.  The adventure can be found on this post:  Big Hill Bonk – Wisconsin Backyard Ultra Race Report

Fake running for the photographer, but having a blast at Big Hill Bonk.

Next up was a return to Chattanooga for my fifth Ironman with my Gunner teammates Dave, Jeff, and Jan. Weatherwise, race day was much better than what we experienced in 2019, a dreadfully hot and humid day. This race was wetsuit legal, a first for Chattanooga, I believe. Even with an extra four miles on the bike course, and the run course being one of the hilliest ever, I turned in my second fastest IM time. Here’s the report:  2021 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

Doing my part to promote pathetic triathlonism.  

I had about a month and a half to work on building some mileage for my first attempt at running 100 miles. I worked on pacing and in-race nutrition while logging lots of weekly miles in training. Race day came and I felt prepared, but my body was aching a little and my mind wasn’t quite prepared to tell my body to keep going. Thankfully, at Tunnel Hill you can get the 50-mile finisher award if you decide to drop at the half-way point, and that’s what I did. I’ve never run that far in one day ever, and I’m pretty proud of that. Read about Tunnel Hill here:  Tunnel Hill 50 Mile Run Race Report

Finishing 50 miles of running and calling it a day.  I had a Forrest Gump moment and didn’t feel like running anymore.

One little note about the Boston Marathon. I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2019 and got my third Boston qualifier, albiet barely. I was thirteen seconds under the qualifying time and even though I was proud of that, I knew that a BQ-13 would not be quick enough, and I didn’t give any thought to applying to run it again. I was wrong. Boston announced that there would be NO CUTOFF FOR 2022! I could have made it in! Oh well, I’m not sure I wanted to run it on such short notice anyway. Running Boston in 2018 was such a miserable experience (!) and great memory for me, I might not ever want to run it again!

So that wraps up 2021. What’s in store for 2022? Well, it seems that I’ve gotten myself entangled in a hodge-podge of events that I will have to figure out how to train for. Plus, I have to keep the calendar clear for a couple reasons: Kari and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in September and we are hoping to go on a trip. And my son Ben and fiance Emily are planning a summer wedding, which doesn’t quite have a concrete date yet. I’m looking forward to both of those non-running, non-triathloning events!

But I have already committed to running the Big Hill Bonk in April, which I have sorta started training for now. I’ve also added the Manteno sprint tri for the end of July. I’m toying with adding the Chicago Triathlon for the end of August. And since the Chicago Marathon notified me that I have legacy and can sign up for the race, I did so. It may end up being another attempt at a Boston qualifier, or it may end up being a training run for Tunnel Hill 100, which I committed to just 2 hours ago. Yeah, I have some unfinished business there.  And I’m a glutton for punishment.

So here’s to 2022 and a happy and healthy racing year.

RUNNING STATS

  • JANUARY – 21 Runs / 140 Miles / 35 Miles per week
  • FEBRUARY – 15 Runs / 79 Miles / 20 Miles per week
  • MARCH – 19 Runs / 85 Miles / 21 Miles per week
  • APRIL – 15 Runs / 78 Miles / 19 Miles per week
  • MAY – 17 Runs / 91 Miles / 23 Miles per week
  • JUNE – 18 Runs / 98 Miles / 24.5 Miles per week
  • JULY – 18 Runs / 120 Miles / 30 Miles per week
  • AUGUST – 20 Runs / 180 Miles / 45 Miles per week
  • SEPTEMBER – 18 Runs / 124 Miles / 31 Miles per week
  • OCTOBER – 21 Runs / 242 Miles / 60.5 Miles per week
  • NOVEMBER – 14 Runs / 158 Miles / 39 Miles per week
  • DECEMBER – 13 Runs / 95 Miles / 24 Miles per week
  • 2021 TOTALS – 209 Runs / 1490 Miles / 28.6 Miles per week

LIFETIME RUNNING TOTAL

  • 29049 Total Lifetime Miles / 5190 Total Lifetime Runs / 33rd Year of Running

BIKING STATS

  • 109 Total Rides / 2843 Total Miles

SWIMMING STATS

  • 33 Total Swims / 51971 Total Yards (29.5 miles)

2021 Chasing the Sun 5K Race Report

When:  06/03/2021

Where:  New Lenox, Illinois

Distance:  5K

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.

Chasing the Sun 5K Results

Running Stories: Reaping the Rewards

This year was going to be a special year of racing for me. In addition to the local road running races and sprint triathlons that I would normally sign up for, I was also set to return to Kentucky for Ironman Louisville with my Gunner teammates/friends, and also take my first stab at doing an ultramarathon in Wisconsin at the Big Hill Bonk in Beloit. But alas, it was not meant to be.

But that doesn’t mean I sat around and did nothing. Even though the races were taken away from me I would never have not ran or biked, or even done the occasional swim just to do it. Running has always been the thing I have done, to the point that it’s just life for me. So regardless of whether there’s a race to run or an event to do, I’m still going to do it. And even with the pandemic going on, I still went out there and put in the running and biking efforts.

Since there was no goal race to shoot for, I decided to just have fun doing my thing while maintaining my running and biking fitness. Mostly I would alternate run and bike days, with Monday being an off-day to recover. There would be low-key group rides on the weekends that usually end up being solo rides anyway. And my weekly midday runs were always there for me after getting off work. And the pool was always waiting for me post run to cool down and put in a few laps of technique focused swimming.

Even though I didn’t have any distance goals or time goals, I focused on putting in miles without going too hard. There were plenty of friends doing “virtual” races, and I gave doing that kind of thing a brief consideration, but then opted against it. Instead I used the year as kind of a recovery year, not burning out, but “keeping it real” as my neighbor likes to say. And as December rolled around I realized that I had just surpassed 12oo running miles, which was a nice accomplishment. Getting over 1000 miles in a year is a pretty good achievement for any runner.

But as the temps dropped and I was seeing my pace come down for my typical running routes, I was interested in seeing just how racing fit I was.

First up was a sub-6 minute mile challenge that I was able to get under with a 5:44 minute mile. That was surprising to me, as I struggled through the summer to be under 6:30.

Last weekend, I decided to run a half-marathon on my own. I usually shoot to be under an hour and forty minutes when racing a half, so I set that as a goal. The hills on my route though were humbling, and I came in at 1:43 and change. Even so, I think that is pretty respectable, seeing that my run lacked the race environment that pushes me to an uncomfortable and challenging pace – fellow competitors, adrenaline, and the desire to push harder when challenged were all absent. I will take that do-it-myself 1:43 half-marathon and be proud of it.

Today I ran my normal 8-mile running route, which is also hilly, but the day seemed pretty good for another push for a good time. I turned in a time of 1:01:20, which is the fastest of the 8-milers that I have run this year. There’s a local 8-mile race that I usually do every November called “The Hot Cider Hustle” in which I can generally come in under 60 minutes. But I will take that 61 minute 20 second 8-mile run and be proud of it.

I had done some good work this year, even without having a goal to shoot for. I’m glad that the work I did produced a handful of good results for me. This year has taught me that reaping the rewards of good work doesn’t have to come from racing.

Time to dial it back a little now and get ready for 2021. Hopefully I can reap the rewards in more of a fashion I am used to. But regardless as to whether we race in 2021 or not, I’m going to put in the work. It’s rewarding.

Running Stories: The Look

On Thanksgiving Day I had very little desire to go for a run.  It was drab and cold outside.  I had been outside early in the morning with my dog and could feel the dampness chilling me and knew that on a day in which people love to get together and race Turkey Trots, I would probably opt out.  Seeing that Covid-19 was killing off most of the official Turkey Trots, the decision to opt out would be an easy one.

But as the morning progressed guilt got the better of me, and I decided that if others were out there I should be too.  Plus sitting inside watching football games that I had zero interest in probably wouldn’t make me feel any better about myself.  And I planned to feast on the fabulous meal my wife would be presenting later in the afternoon.  I needed to run to make me feel better.

I chose to run eight miles, my typical distance which follows my normal looped running route.  I can change my route up – shorten it, lengthen it, run it clockwise one day, counter-clockwise the next.  But I generally run my loop, and adding a little quarter-mile extension, it makes it an even eight miles.

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My 8-mile looped route. I know it like the back of my hand.

As I got to the looped portion of the trail a mile from home I noticed that I wasn’t alone out there on Thanksgiving Day.  Plenty of walkers and runners enjoying a moderately mild, fall day.  Families walking together, a few running together and most just doing what comes natural on Thanksgiving Day – getting together outside and being thankful for that opportunity.  About a mile and a half into my run I got the first of handful of greetings that I call “The Look.”

The look can be different things with different meanings, but for runners it generally is an acknowledgement that the looker sees you as a serious runner.  I see it a lot at races, runners eyeing each other up, giving a nod as if to say “I validate you and recognize you as my competition.”  I also see it out on the local running trail as well.

Maybe it was the Boston Marathon jacket I was wearing, or maybe it was my pace.  I’m not sure, but the kid running toward me gave me the look and a greeting that seemed to say “Nice job, old guy.”  I can assume this because he wasn’t dressed like a hobby jogger, and he looked like a high school or college cross country runner.  I have to admit that it kind of made my day.

Another mile or two into it and I came upon another runner who looked very fast.  This time it was me that gave the look of approval.  He was lean, focused and running pretty fast.  He didn’t even really make eye contact with me that I could tell.  I gave him a quick thumbs up and “nice job” and we were soon running away from each other as fast as we had been running toward each other.  I don’t think he even realized that I gave him the look.

As I kept moving toward mile six, I saw a couple up ahead walking toward me.  This time the look came from a tall, jeans wearing guy who was also wearing running shoes.  He seemed to take me in and give me the look, one that lingered, like he was acknowledging the Boston celebration jacket and knew what it took to earn that jacket.  I gave him the look as well – he looked like a guy who was a longtime runner, with a pedigree to boot.  He reminded me of the guys who used to run in the early 70’s – Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, et. al.  He had that look of a tall and thin runner.  As I ran away from them I wondered what kind of running he may have done over the years.

As I was about to finish my loop and take the trail back home, who did I see coming at me but the kid who I thought hadn’t even noticed me 2.5 miles earlier.  This time he and I were chuckling at the fact that we were seeing each other again.  I now wondered if he had given me the look, seeing that he recognized me the second time around.

Two days later I went for another run.  I didn’t give anyone the look, nor did I receive any.  I did have someone say hello to me and call me by my name.  I have no idea who it was, as he was cycling and bundled up from head to toe.  Getting recognized by another runner or cyclist is almost as good as getting the look.

So the next time you are at a race, or just out running, keep an eye out for the look.  Another runner respects you.  You deserve it.

Big Hill Bonk Race Update

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

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

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

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

Big Hill Bonk Course Preview Run

 

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BIG HILL BONK – LAST RUNNER STANDING TRAINING REPORT UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leaving the road and heading onto the grass.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

The Dumb Running Event – Training Update

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BIG HILL BONK – LAST RUNNER STANDING TRAINING REPORT

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

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

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

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

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Massaging away the soreness after a long run.

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

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

A couple of things I have learned so far:

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

 

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