In April I’m heading back to Beloit, Wisconsin to give the second running of the Big Hill Bonk another go. I’m so not ready. I already feel like I’m bonking. Winter running is not my friend, and as an older runner, I try to use winter as a recovery period of sorts from what I did throughout the previous year. That makes running spring marathons tough for me. My mileage is low and my knee kind of hurts lately, but there’s still some time to get my act together and give this race another try.
I find this race format intriguing. It’s pretty simple – run 4.16 miles in an hour and keep running that 4.16-mile loop every hour for as long as you can. People will drop out until there is only one runner left and that runner is the winner. For everyone else, well, thanks for playing.
I’m not fooling myself, I know I won’t win, but I had avoided ultra-distance running for so long that I thought that I should at least experience it in order to validate my running legacy somehow. Last year I made it through 8 loops (also called yards), a total of 33-miles. The goal was to pass the 50K mark, which I did – marking my first ultra-marathon distance – and to have some fun, which I also did. I learned some valuable lessons along the way, and I’ve been thinking about them a little bit.
There’s a little bit of strategy involved in this type of race. You have to budget your effort to not wear yourself out too early, yet you have to expend enough energy to finish the loop in an hour. I came to the race last year not knowing much about how to run a trail ultra, but I got a crash course quickly. I walked more than I was expecting. Some of the hills the others were walking I would have typically never walked. I was also carrying too much stuff and noticed most of the others just had a small water bottle. I made a change to just carrying a handheld bottle myself by yard number three.
This year the race will be in April and not August, so I have to plan for running in cooler weather rather than the warm weather of last year. There’s no crystal ball for the weather this far out from the race, so I just have to assume that it could be much cooler, and possibly rainy. I wouldn’t have minded getting a little cooling rain last year, but the thunderstorms of the area thankfully skirted around us. I’ll just have to hope for cool and dry temperatures for April.
It will be interesting to see how the course is in early spring compared to summer. I’m hoping the trail will be dry. Last summer the course had a section that was a little overgrown with the typical forest undergrowth in spots, but it wasn’t an issue. I’m guessing that we won’t have to deal with that this time.
One of the other changes this time around is that the start time will be in the morning rather than early evening. Last year we were able to get in about three yards of the course before it got dark. So we will have some daylight loops to start with this time.
So far the field is about the same size as last time, about thirty runners. This is a good number for the course. More than that could make for some clogged spots in the single-track areas of the course. I won’t need to worry about it too much. It’s not a speed contest, but you do have to finish the yard before the hour is up. I think most of us will average about 50-minutes to do a yard. Having ten minutes to replenish water and food, and maybe sit for a moment is plenty of time. I think I will try to take on a little bit more food this time as well.
I looked at the registered athletes for the 2022 event and was surprised to see that at this time there are only three runners returning from 2021 – myself, Zac Lungren, who ran 13 yards/54 miles, and Jon Noll – the eventual winner, who ran a mind-boggling 34 yards, and a total of 141 miles! Last year there was a very solid group of six runners that all surpassed 100 miles and kept pushing Jon to earn his title. The rest of the 2022 field are all newcomers as of this post. I’m guessing some of the runners from last year saw that Jon signed up and said, “Well, what’s the point?” and decided to find another race to do. Maybe some of them found the course in Beloit to be a pretty good challenge, I certainly did. And since the race got moved back to April instead of August, maybe some are also like me and feeling a little under-prepared.
Of the newcomers, there are some serious contenders there. Jon will have his work cut out for him for sure. Many of them will be like me, curious to experience this kind of event, maybe challenge themselves to experience trail running, or hit a distance milestone for the first time. Maybe some think that they can win. Only Jon stands in their way. You just have to run one more yard than everyone else. Good luck!
My last blog post was all about me asking myself if I was ready to run 100 miles. It turns out that I wasn’t. I found out that I definitely wasn’t prepared physically, and maybe I wasn’t quite prepared mentally as well. All 100-mile runs will challenge you in both ways, but I found out that I wasn’t quite up to the task. I was hoping that what training I had done would be enough, but there’s no substitute for running long miles. Running 100 miles demands respect, and I didn’t give it its due. I learned a valuable lesson. I was able to salvage something out of the race, and I am very proud of that. Here are the details.
Tunnel Hill 100 & 50 Mile Runs have been around since 2014, and the races have earned quite a reputation. The course is a world record course, and many runners have been setting personal bests there as well.
My ultra-running local friend Jodi has done the race before and provided the inspiration for me to give this race a try. A few other local friends also joined in on the challenge and came down to Vienna, Illinois to give it a go. I figured why not join in on the fun.
My wife Kari and I drove down on Friday and pulled into Vienna just in time for the start of packet pick-up. We didn’t waste much time there as the sun was starting to set and we wanted to take a drive to where the aid stations would be so that she could be familiar with the route.
After finding the southern aid station in Karnak, Illinois we headed back to eat the complimentary spaghetti dinner with the others.
After dinner, Kari and I drove to the northern aid station located near the Tunnel Hill tunnel and then headed to the hotel to check-in. It wasn’t long until my son Ben and his fiance Emily arrived, and we made some last-minute plans. I knew that Ben was going to pace me the last 25 miles of the race, but Emily also offered to run with me from Mile 50 to Mile 61 on the third leg, which I was very grateful for. Turns out neither would run at all!
After a peaceful sleep, we caravaned to Vienna to await the start. I was in a pretty good mood, with very little of the normal race day anxiety. I found the others and shared best wishes and then took a spot with the rest of the runners. The National Anthem was sung, the horn sounded, and we were off.
LEG 1 – Vienna south to Karnak and the Southern Turnaround
After a loop around the parking lot, we made a right turn onto the Tunnel Hill State Trail for the first leg. One guy standing along the road shouted “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!” which surprisingly gave me a chuckle. I was in a good mood. I was running with Jodi until my watch beeped and told me to walk. We were barely on the trail at this point! I felt a little silly slowing to a walk four minutes into a race, but I was dedicated to my pacing plan. It wasn’t long and others started to walk as well. Jodi was now long gone. And I would later find out all my other friends would leave me in the dust as well!
The trail was pretty crowded at this point and trying to find space on the trail was hard, as very few of us were running at the same pace. But we made the best of it and kept moving forward.
Prior to getting to Karnak, I found that I was sweaty, which surprised me somewhat. I stopped at the Heron Pond aid station and took off my windbreaker. Arriving in Karnak, I saw my crew and said I was crabby. We swapped my partially empty hydration vest for one they prepped for me and was fully loaded and I made way over to the food tables. I was expecting just a bunch of cookies and such, but there was bacon! And French toast pieces! I grabbed some bacon and was glad to have something that wasn’t sugary. The two pieces of French toast were some of the best French toast I have ever had. I walked and ate and then started running the remaining couple of miles to the turnaround.
The trip heading to the southern turnaround seemingly took forever. And it was into the wind, which made me regret taking the windbreaker off. But I think that was a little bit of a blessing, as it cooled me down and dried me off a little. As I was heading there I first saw my friend Leah, then I saw Jodi, then Jennifer, and finally Jim all coming back north! They were all kicking my butt! I was a little surprised to be bringing up the rear, as I was on my sub-20 hour pace and pretty consistent with it. It would turn out that they are much more awesome at this than my inexperienced ass.
LEG 2 – The Southern Turnaround back to Vienna
I hit the turnaround and was back to Karnak to talk with my crew again and I made the decision to swap hats, as my original ones were soaked with sweat. I was dragging on this part. I seemed to lack energy and was also a little off somehow. I found that when I was walking it seemed a little unbalanced. Running seemed okay, but I just wasn’t feeling right.
There were lots to keep my mind occupied. I was swapping places with groups of others as we took turns running and walking. There were three college-age guys running together who I nicknamed the “Bros” and they were fun to follow. They were enjoying themselves.
I finally got to Vienna and was relieved. 26+ miles done. First up was a change of clothes. Kari expected that I would want to change clothes and I was happy to get out of the sweaty stuff. I sat down in a chair and was given a ham and cheese sandwich and a bottle of Lipton Brisk Lemon Tea by my family. It was nice to sit, eat and soak up a little sun after running a little more than 26 miles. The rest didn’t last long. Ben pulled me up out of the chair, we swapped a depleted hydration vest for a full one, and I started out on the northern leg of the route.
LEG 3 – Vienna north to Tunnel Hill and the Northern Turnaround
The funk I was in during the second leg seemed to wane now that I had a sandwich and some food in me. But I think the main reason I perked up was that I was now downing gels and hydration that had caffeine in them. It was the boost that I was needing. Mentally I was in a much better place, but physically my thighs/quads were getting very sore. After every walk break, I would gingerly start my jogging routine and try not to think about the soreness. After a while, I decided that the four-minute run portion of my pacing plan was not doing me any favors any longer. I pushed some buttons on my watch and lowered the run portion to two minutes. Two minutes running and two minutes walking was now the pace plan. There were a lot of other runners walking more as well, and for longer periods of time.
The northern part of the course was beautiful. The southern portion was mostly treelined with beautiful fall colors, but the northern section had that as well as awesome rock formations and numerous bridges spanning ravines and small creeks. Plus it had an awesome tunnel. The top of the concrete tunnel entrance was stamped “1929” and it really was a relic from another time. As you approached you could clearly see the exit on the other side, and the length of the tunnel is about 200 yards or so. But once inside it got dark, even if you could see the exit. It felt really weird, the exit was clearly visible, but you didn’t really know what your feet were stepping on. Ben had heard someone describe it as “trippy” and I think that is spot on. It was a strange sensation.
Not long on the other side was the Tunnel Hill aid station and Kari, Ben, and Emily were there waiting for me. I ducked into a toilet and then walked over to a chair and sat down. I told them I was feeling good from the waist up, but the waist down was in bad shape. Kari offered me some ibuprofen and I quickly turned it down. Then she offered some Tylenol and I turned that down too. I wasn’t sure how my stomach would feel if I took some, and it’s pretty well-known that taking ibuprofen is not the best idea for distance runners.
After leaving the aid station I continued north toward the northern turnaround, and I was giving taking some Tylenol some serious thought. By this point, I had adjusted my run time from two minutes down to one, and the quad soreness was not getting better. I was now walking more than I was running. I had some Tylenol with me, so I decided to take some.
LEG 4 – The Northern Turnaround back to Vienna
The turnaround seemed like it would never come. When I finally got there it was such a relief. As the trip south now began, I noticed something interesting. This trip north was uphill, but the trip back was uphill too! Uphill both ways!
Within 20-minutes after taking the Tylenol I could feel my legs getting better. By the time I was back at the Tunnel Hill aid station I was a new man. My attitude was great, my quads felt much better, and I was kicking myself for not taking some pain pills earlier.
Kari could tell I was much better off. The food table had just put down some freshly made grilled ham & cheese sandwiches. I took one of the triangle cut portions and it literally became the greatest grilled ham & cheese sandwich I had ever eaten. I went back and grabbed another and the aid station lady was laughing that I was looking for seconds.
Another hydration vest switch, and I grabbed a headlamp, and off I went back south toward Vienna. The trip through the tunnel was much better now that I could see the ground. There wasn’t any weird sensation going through it. The ceiling of the tunnel was still soot-covered from the long-ago passing trains, but now there was some modern spray-painted graffiti added for no good reason.
I held off turning the headlamp on permanently until the last bit of fading sunlight was gone. With the artificial light making the trail visible, I made my way along the trail. There seemed to be fewer and fewer people heading north and most were now heading the same direction that I was. Occasionally I would pass a runner without a headlamp and wonder how they could see at all. It was pitch black out, even with a half-moon shining in the dark sky above.
As I pressed on I decided that maybe I could run a little more, so I bumped it up to a 2-minute run. That worked for a little while, but soon I found myself tiring. Knowing that if I was to continue on I might want to be more conservative with my energy, and I went back to the 1-minute run / 2-minute walk.
Somewhere in this stretch, I did some soul searching. I rationalized everything, taking into account how I have felt throughout the day and how I was feeling now. I had told Kari and others numerous times before the race that they should be prepared for me to drop at the halfway point. This is an option at the Tunnel Hill Runs. Those that had signed up for the 100-mile race could drop down to the 50-Mile race and become an official 50-Mile finisher if they choose to. This was looked at by some as a trap, somewhat of an enticement, or a consolation prize to those running the one hundred to drop instead of pressing on. I knew this. I also knew that after enduring the miles I had gone through already, I clearly would be struggling to continue on for another 50. I would be miserable. At one point I said I’m going to keep going. A minute later I was talking myself out of it. It was a difficult decision, but I finally said to myself that I need to attempt this another time, a time at which I’m better prepared, both physically and mentally.
The Shelby Road aid station is only about 3 miles out from Vienna, and a little puzzling as to why it’s so close to the start/finish. I arrived and took a look at the food table and decided that nothing appealed much to me. I took a small piece of banana, squeezed it into my mouth, and pushed toward the finish line.
As the lights of the Vienna aid station came into view I experienced relief for the first time. I turned off my headlamp, jogged across the timing mat, and hit stop on my watch. I was done. Fifty miles. The longest I had ever run in my life in one day.
Ben was the first to greet me and I’m sure that he could have predicted what I was about to say. “I’m done.” He offered some positive words and did what all good crew will do, he encouraged me to continue on. But I had made up my mind. Then a race official did the same. “Walk a little. Go get some food. Think it over.” I walked over to Kari and Emily and sat in a chair and was getting a little upset having to deal with those telling me to go on when I made it pretty clear that I didn’t want to. It’s their job to do that, to tell you not to quit. But I was starting to interpret their positive encouragement as “don’t be a quitter.” It was getting to me. At some point they conceded and it was over.
Kari encouraged me to go into the warming tent and have some soup. Inside I found Jennifer, who had just finished her 50 Miles, and Tony, a friend from the local running/riding group who was there helping crew others, and he offered some very kind words. I went from hearing what I was wrongly interpreting that I was quitting on myself to knowing that I just did something pretty spectacular.
I left the tent and Ben walked me over to the timing tent. Another female runner had just dropped from her 100-mile attempt to the 50, which made me feel better. I wasn’t alone. I’m not sure what her reasons were, but I’m guessing it wasn’t an easy decision for her, just like it wasn’t for me. The volunteer said, “Great job, here’s your belt buckle.” It was official, Bib #536 was now a 50-Mile finisher.
Ben and I walked back to join Kari and Emily and we started packing up. I wrapped a blanket around me and we started to head to the car. Except now my body was shutting down on me. All I could do as I was shivering was to stagger very slowly back toward the car. Each step was almost excruciatingly painful. I started to wonder what if this would have happened to me later on during the next leg. What if it had happened miles away from the aid station? As we got to the car and Ben had to help me get my legs into the car, I realized that I had made a smart move to drop.
I am very proud of what I accomplished. Finishing 50 miles is pretty awesome in its own right. The option to stop at the 50-mile mark was actually a blessing for me. In retrospect, I just wasn’t prepared to go 100-miles. I lacked the time on my feet that running that distance demands. Also, I think the main reason I stopped at 50 instead of pressing on was that I was just tired of running and the prospect of another 50 wasn’t appealing to me at all at the moment. I’ll have to overcome that feeling next time, I’m sure.
I will revisit this race again in the future when I’m better prepared and eager to make it happen. Thanks, Tunnel Hill!
My wife Kari continues to wow me with her love for me and the support she gives me when I tackle these challenges. I couldn’t do it without her.
Thanks to Ben and Emily for giving up their weekend to crew me and help out mom. Although I felt like I cheated you out of pacing me through the second half of the run, I sense that you guys were okay with it. (lol)
To my local friends:
– Jodi finished her 5th 100-mile race, which is just absolutely amazing. Thanks for providing the inspiration and sharing your ultrarunning knowledge.
– Jim, you are impressive as always. You have the wisdom and experiences that I seek.
– Jennifer, congrats on your first 50-mile finish. You provided enough enthusiasm for all of us.
– Theresa, way to go on that 50-mile finish!
– Leah, WOW! Way to kill it! Not sure how you held that pace through 100 miles, but WELL DONE!
– Calvin, your love for running and your unselfishness is amazing. Keep it up!
– Tony, thanks for the kind words in the tent, letting me know that even though the original goal wasn’t achieved, the finish I got is pretty damn good, too.
– Dan, I look forward to learning more from you. Thanks for spectating and the encouragement!
I’m attempting to run my first 100-mile ultra marathon on Saturday (and Sunday, too!) and in the past few days, I have been asked if I was ready several times. I don’t think that I have given the same answer each time it was asked. I really don’t know if I’m ready. Maybe. I guess so. Nope. Yup. We’ll see – have been the typical responses based on how I felt that day.
Running one hundred miles is something I have never done before. I honestly have no idea how it’s going to go for me. I have set goals of just being able to finish, to finish under 24-hours and also 20-hours, and also to not die while doing it, as dying would upset my wife. I have recruited my wife to be my crew chief, and if I were to croak on top of making her suffer through this dumb idea I don’t think it would go over well.
But am I really ready? To be honest, I never directly followed a 100-mile ultra training plan in preparation for this race. The Covid pandemic tossed around a couple of races that I had planned to do in 2020 and they got moved to 2021. The Big Hill Bonk race ended up being in August instead of April, and Ironman Louisville, originally scheduled for October 2020, became Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021. That meant that I was planning to run what would become my first ultra-distance event and Ironman in late summer/early fall of 2021. At that point, I figured “why not take advantage of the training I was doing and attempt my first 100-miler?” So I signed up for Tunnel Hill 100, a mid-November race in which a handful of local friends were also running. They are bad influences.
My goal was to run 40-50 miles at the Big Hill Bonk, but I “bonked” at 33 miles. I hadn’t followed a specific ultra-running plan for that race either. I just used what run training I was doing while training for my Ironman. That got me over 50K and I officially became an ultra runner, but it also taught me that running 33 miles was hard and therefore, 100-miles might be super-duper hard.
I quickly put that race behind me and focused on following my training plan for my Ironman. Ironman Chattanooga went off without a hitch and I notched the 2nd-quickest time of the five I have completed. That left me about 6-weeks to do just long, slow running. And guess what? I found that I liked long, slow running.
I’ve always been about speed. I’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon three times, and that required me to push myself pretty hard. But training for an ultra required something else – a slow pace, one that you can maintain for a day. Or at least a pace at which medical aid won’t likely be required when finished. Been there, done that. I found that when I slowed down, I actually enjoyed running. The miles went by quickly enough, and before I knew it I was four hours into a training run and still felt pretty good.
I had found an online 100-mile ultra training plan on a website called Relentless Forward Commotion, which is an awesome ultra-running resource. I loosely based what little time I had left to train on what that plan had called for, but I didn’t follow it exactly. The plan had called for a 50K (which I did!) and a 50-mile run (which I didn’t do!) leading up to the race. But I had done an Ironman, so that has to count for something, right? I say it does.
After Ironman Chattanooga, which included 26.2 miles of some of the toughest hills I have ever run (okay, walked) for a marathon, I put together long runs of 21, 26, 16, 21, 22, and 16, leaving me with some time to taper down until race day. So when you take into account that I did run a 50K, an Ironman, and six weeks of some of the highest weekly mile totals that I have ever done, I think that I did do an adequate job of training for running 100 miles without actually directly training for running 100 miles. We shall see.
On Monday, I ran five miles and did the same on Tuesday. After that, I said that’s it. I’m as ready as I can be at this point. Another three or four-mile run isn’t going to make me any more prepared, and my legs and feet can use the rest as I focus on packing the junk that I will need for this dumb idea.
Am I ready? I’m definitely ready to get this over with. The stress is killing me.
Training for an ultra is a complicated thing, not that training for other race distances isn’t, but training to run 100 miles is a whole new ball of wax for me. And to complicate it more I’m not following any specific plan to accomplish running 100 miles, as I’m relying on my 30-weeks of Ironman training to do the brunt of the work for me, leaving me only seven weeks to devote to some run only specific training. I still have some work to do.
I was listening to a podcast called “The Tunnel Hill Chronicles,” in which this younger guy named Lorin is documenting his training for the race, and he mentioned that he would rather be a little undertrained for an ultra-marathon than be overtrained. I agree, so I got that going for me – which is nice.
Lately, I have been experimenting with pace. To run 100 miles in under 20 hours is pretty simple – average 12 minutes per mile, or 5 mph, and you are golden. And running the Big Hill Bonk taught me that running 4.166 miles every hour will net you a 24-hour 100 miler. Not many spend the entirety of the distance actually running. Most follow some sort of run and walk ratio, either by design or by having it forced upon them. The majority of ultra marathons seem to take place in hilly or mountainous areas, and the golden rule is to run the flats and the downhills and walk the uphills. At Tunnel Hill, despite what the name might be suggesting, there aren’t any hills or mountains. From what I understand, the tunnel actually goes through the “hill.” I’ve read that there are a few gradual inclines on the old railroad bed turned trail, but they aren’t really hills.
So if there are no hills you have to design some sort of plan to incorporate some walking into your strategy or you will likely find walking as your only strategy.
I have searched for common run/walk ratios for ultras and found that they can vary widely. Some recommend a 15-minute run with a 3-minute walk. That seems on the high side to me. That gives you 3.33 run/walk blocks in an hour, and my OCD would prefer that I make them divide out nicely over 60-minutes. I have decided that breaking it up into a 6-minute run/walk segment might be perfect, which would give me 10 total blocks per hour. So far I have tried the following:
5 minutes : 1 minute Ratio – Five minutes of running followed by one minute of walking was the obvious first choice. I have done that ratio several times and I found that five minutes of running was a little long, and the one-minute recovery walk went by quickly.
5 minutes : 1 minute, 15 seconds Ratio – I tried to add some additional time to the walk, but I didn’t like that it screwed up the 6-minute block.
4 minutes, 45 seconds : 1 minute, 15 seconds Ratio – I realized that I didn’t have to focus on adding time to the walk and took off 15-seconds from the run. This 4:45 run / 1:15 walk ratio worked pretty well. However, it got me to the 5-mile split around 53-minutes, which could be used to walk some more until the hour is up, or I could come to my senses and see that I should probably slow my pace a little.
4.5 minutes : 1.5 minutes Ratio – This ratio wasn’t much different than the 4.75:1.25, but I am starting to think that a little more walk time would be beneficial to for me.
4 minutes, 15 seconds : 1 minute, 45 seconds Ratio – Bingo! Running 4:15 and then walking for 1:45 was a great combo by not having too much run time and enough walk time to recover a little and give me some time to drink some water and take on nutrition. This was working great, but I was a little concerned about not walking enough.
4 minutes : 2 minutes Ratio – Now I am onto something. This seems to be the best combination for me. The minutes are even splits and the 2-minutes of walking gives me a much needed break without wasting too much time walking. I’m still covering just about the same distance as the 4-minute 15-second ratio, so I’ll take the extra walk time break and use it in my favor. This works out to be a pace somewhere around 11:15 minutes to 11:20 minutes average pace per mile, which will be optimal.
So, that’s enough experimenting. A four minute run followed by a two minute walk seems to be the best combo for me and will be what I use in the event. Six minute intervals, 10 per hour – I just have to do 200 of these intervals and I’m golden. I won’t be wasting energy keeping track of that in my mind.
The overall goal for me is obviously to finish 100 miles before the 30-hour cutoff, but I think I might be able to shoot for a sub-20 hour finish based on how I have felt in training while doing that run/walk method. This goal may be a little over-ambitious, but I think that I can hold the pace for at least half of the 100 miles. It’s the unknown miles from 50 on that I have no idea what will happen. I’m sure the journey to the finish line will tell me a lot about myself. I’m looking forward to it.
I signed up for the Tunnel Hill 100 mile ultramarathon without much forethought. If I’m good for anything it’s not thinking things through. But seeing that I was training for Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021 and doing the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing event in August, I figured that the training load for Ironman and running 50K at the Big Hill Bonk would prepare me well for Tunnel Hill in November. I may have figured wrong. But we’ll see. There’s still plenty of weeks of training to go, and I’m sure I may see some improvements in endurance running as I creep closer to the ultra.
I saw a post on Facebook recently that asked what was harder, an Ironman or a 100-mile ultra, and the answers were interesting. In terms of the race itself, most declared that running 100 miles in a day was much tougher than completing an Ironman. But many also agreed that the training for Ironman was much harder than what people do to train for an ultra. I was troubled and glad to hear both of those responses.
I’m a little concerned that the run training that I am doing for Ironman is not going to be sufficient to get me to that 100-mile finish. I only got through 50K at Big Hill Bonk before tapping out. Maybe if the finish 4.16 miles in one-hour time constraint wasn’t in play there, I might have walked more and gone a little further. That time/distance format is a good indicator or predictor for an ultra as 4.16 miles in one hour will net you 100 miles in 24 hours. I was able to get a third of it in.
On my 2.5-hour training run today, I played with using run/walk intervals for the first time. I had played with that Galloway method probably twenty years ago, but I found that I would essentially pace way too fast for the run portion and not walk leisurely enough in the walk portion. I gave up on it and just went with what I knew best, running by feel and keeping an even pace.
I tried running for five minutes and then walking for one minute. That 5:1 ratio was working pretty well for me and I was averaging 10 min/mile pace, which nets a 20-hour 100 miler. When I turned around at 75 minutes I was at 7.75 miles, and by the time I finished the 2.5 hours I only netted 15 miles and felt pretty worn out. Not enough nutrition? Was the day warming up too much? Were the hills at the end causing me to slow down? Maybe, sure, all of the above, I dunno.
To do 100 miles in 20 hours you need to hit five miles every hour, and I did that today. Maybe if I run the 5:1 ratio until I hit five miles, I could have more time to walk out the remaining minutes of the hour. I will give that a go next time. I’m also considering lowering the ratio to four minutes of running and one minute of walking and see how that goes. There is still time to play with the run:walk ratio.
Thoughts of dropping down to the 50-mile ultra have been entering my head, but I’m not giving up just yet. I just need to dial it in a little better and see where it takes me.
Distance: Endless 4.166 mile yards (loops) until there is only one runner left to complete a yard
Results: DNF officially (only the last runner standing is a finisher, everyone else is a non-finisher and basically SOL), but here’s what I accomplished: 8 yards (loops) / 33.33 miles / 22nd furthest distance covered out of 35 runners
BIG HILL BONK – WISCONSIN BACKYARD ULTRA – LAST RUNNER STANDING
Finally. After three postponements and nearly a year and a half after this event was to take place, the Big Hill Bonk actually happened! And after 32+ years of running, I finally attempted and achieved my first ultramarathon.
Last runner standing format ultramarathons have become very popular as of late. I’m not sure when the first one was held, but it took a guy called “Lazarus Lake” to make it a very big deal. Laz is responsible for the Barkley Marathons, and he decided to create an event called “Big’s Backyard Ultra,” named for his dog Big, and held it in his backyard. Big’s is now the World Championship in this event, and qualifying for it means winning a similar race and getting the golden coin. Good luck getting one.
When I first heard of it I found the format to be fascinating, and when the Big Hill Bonk was announced and it was somewhat local I made it my goal to be there and attempt my first ultra-distance run.
Initially, I intended this race to be my “A” race – the focus for the year and not let anything else affect training for it and participating in it, but Covid-19 derailed those plans. The race got postponed from April 2020 to October 2020 to April 2021 and then finally to August 6, 2021. In between that span of time Ironman Louisville 2020 also got canceled and I was deferred to Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021. Since I spend 30 weeks training for Ironman and it is such an investment in time and money, I made the decision to primarily focus on that race and apply that training to the Big Hill Bonk. It resulted in me being somewhat ill-prepared running-wise to do this ultra, but it was the best that I could do under the circumstances. I think my longest run in preparation was a couple 2-hour runs.
My goal for this race was pretty simple: last at least to the 50K mark, which would be eight total yards. As the race approached I was somewhat hoping to hit ten yards, but mainly I just wanted to be an official ultramarathoner.
The race started at 5:30 pm, which is somewhat strange, but it worked out just fine. I worried about a 5:30 pm start in April when the sun would set much sooner than it did in August. I also worried about being able to stay awake through the night, but sleepiness wasn’t really an issue. Thanks, caffeine.
Kari committed to making sure that I wasn’t going to do this race without her being there to ensure I didn’t seriously injure myself or die or something. So we drove up Friday afternoon and arrived about 3:30 pm. I checked in and got my bib and t-shirt and then began unloading the car and setting up my campsite, for lack of a better description.
I made my way through some serious tents already set up by those runners who were serious enough to get a spot as close as they could to the start/finish area. I found the first open area I could and set up my little pop-up tent and laid out my junk.
My little pop-up tent worked just fine and I was glad I didn’t have to worry about a much bigger tent to deal with when I stopped running, as we had to clear out when we bonked out of the race.
I made some idle chitchat with a nearby runner and made myself eat some food and get some water in me. Kari helped me get my hydration running vest filled with fluids. At 5 pm we met with the race director Tyler and went over the rules. We found out that there would be 35 runners, with three no-shows. I can’t imagine had there been a full field of runners. The tent area would have been super crowded, and running the loop would have needed some start placement strategy to make sure I was able to pace my run at the pace I was hoping to go.
Tyler admitted that he didn’t have a whistle to blow at 3, 2, and 1 minute before the start of the race, so he advised that he would just shout out how many minutes until the start as a warning to us all. That worked just fine.
At “3 minutes!” I took notice and got up and made sure I had what I need to run with.
At “2 minutes!” I kissed Kari goodbye and made my way to the pavement where we had to assemble at the bottom of each hour.
“1 minute! 10 seconds, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… GO!” And away we went.
It’s not so much a race as it is an endurance event. Who can go the farthest is all that matters. One 4.166 mile lap or loop in this event is called a “yard” I’m guessing because Laz’s race consists of loops through his and his dog Big’s backyard. So being the first to come in every yard really means nothing other than you get to rest longer if that is a benefit to you. I was somewhat under the impression that resting may not be in your benefit, but Kari said that most of the others were coming in and sitting down and putting their feet up.
I planned to be conservative and finish each loop around 50 minutes. That would give me time to use the toilet, refill my water bottle, eat something and do any equipment changes that may be necessary.
I started out with my Nathan hydration vest filled with water and Gatorade. I also opted to wear my Hoka Challenger trail shoes. Both of these decisions would be changed by Yard 3.
The course was a combination of pavement, grass, dirt, rock, and a very bouncy wooden bridge thrown in just for fun. And speaking of fun, there were plenty of tree roots, fallen trees, weeds, stairs and big rocks to navigate around, through and over. I figured that I ran about 2.5 miles and walked about 1.5 miles. Everyone walked the hills, even the small ones, myself included. The namesake Big Hill was a 10-minute walk for me.
I had run three loops of the course back in March 2020 prior to Covid shutting everything down, and thankfully the course was still familiar to me. There weren’t any surprises and the first yard went pretty much as I planned. I spent some time monitoring my watch, checking the time when I would pass certain checkpoints so that I would know how I was doing each subsequent yard.
It was clear to me even before starting the yard that a fully loaded hydration vest was probably not in my best interest. I was carrying far more than I needed. Plus, it was making me hotter than I need to be. There were a few others also wearing one, but for the most part, everyone else was just carrying a small, hand-held bottle.
After finishing this yard, I went straight to the portable toilet and then back with Kari to my tent to refuel and discuss how I felt. I decided to just take on some gel and drink some Gatorade.
Yard 2 was just a few seconds faster than the first and I felt really good about that. I came in and committed to the peeing again, which I think was a good plan. I tried to urinate after every yard just to make sure that I was staying on top of hydration. Back at the tent, Kari handed me some pretzels and some more Gatorade and I took another hit of gel. I also decided to take a salt capsule at this time, as I was sweating a lot. I’m not sure the extra salt was needed because I was eating plenty of salty snacks and drinking Gatorade, but I was leaving nothing to chance.
I decided to take my iPhone with me and take some really crappy selfies and photos as I ran on Yard 3 because I figured it was the last lap with available sunlight. I was also now pretty familiar with the course so I wasn’t too worried about carrying the dumb phone around and snapping a few pictures. Here’s some of what the course looked like:
The yards were starting to become pretty routine – Start with running on the parking lot asphalt and transitioning to grass, down a paved bike trail, head up a steep dirt path, run across the grass to the road, down a technical path and over a bunch of roots and fallen trees, down the stairs, across a path and then head through the foliage portion of the trail always watching for tree roots and low hanging branches, across the trampoline bridge, up the gravel/crushed rock Big Hill, onto the dirt path then onto the road, back to a gravel road that changed to dirt, then back to a grassy path that leads to the finish. Into the toilet, back to the tent, down some gel, food, and Gatorade. Repeat, repeat, repeat…
It was on this yard that I decided that I was done with the hydration vest and opted to just use a handheld Nathan 8 0unce water bottle from now on. I drained the water bottle every loop. 8 ounces seemed to be about the right amount of water on this warm and humid evening.
I changed my shirt and visor and added a light to the bill of the visor. The little lights that I bought over a year ago got a good recharging and one little light provided enough light to see sufficiently. I also grabbed a Nathan hand-held flashlight that I carried with me strapped to my right hand and turned it on when I got to the technical stuff. At the start of this yard, Kari was telling me to turn my light on, but I was surprised at how well I could see just using everyone else’s headlamps and lights. But when we spread out, it was time to rely on my own lights.
I was glad to be done with the vest and felt refreshed after toweling off and getting a dry shirt. Simple things like this can certainly lift your mood.
In the dark, the course was now almost unfamiliar in a way. Oh sure, I knew the layout and such, but not being able to see specific landmarks that were visible in the daylight made for some new challenges. One time through the course in the dark was enough to build confidence in knowing the turns and course again.
Kari had left the park to go check into the local hotel and grab some dinner, so I was on my own for this yard. After getting back to the finish, I immediately walked over to the water cooler and filled up my bottle. After another bathroom break it was off to my tent to replenish my fuel and drink some Gatorade. In addition to taking a shot of GU Salted Caramel gels, I was snacking on salty potato chips, salty pretzels (Dot’s Pretzels are the best), fun-size Payday bars, and a turkey and swiss sandwich.
I also decided that I had had enough with the trail shoes and switched out to my normal Hoka Clifton running shoes. The bottom edge of the trail shoes would clip my ankle so often that I couldn’t take it anymore. The Cliftons were more than sufficient for this multi-surface trail.
I found a little speed this lap somehow, turning in the quickest time of the eight yards I ran.
As I ran through this loop I knew I was about to get to marathon distance and thought how strange it was to feel pretty good at this point. Normally in a marathon, I am holding on for dear life at Mile 25 trying to set a marathon personal best or get that elusive Boston qualifier. But today that was not in my game plan. Slow and steady was the motto. I didn’t have to remind myself to take my time on the hills and just kept that forward momentum going.
However, I was beginning to get a pain in my upper left thigh that would bother me when I ran. I started to think that I could definitely get in two more loops, but started thinking that eight might be my max. Besides having a goal of reaching 50K (~31 miles), I also had a goal of not wiping myself out to the point where Kari would have to deal with a dehydrated, shivering and cramping mess when I was done.
As I got back to my tent, Kari had brought me some chicken broth that she had warmed up at the hotel and placed into a soup thermos thing she purchased for this dumb event. I drank as much as I could and chased it down with some Gatorade and headed back to the start area for Yard 7.
As we started off this yard, I burped up some Gatorade/chicken broth mix and that acid reflux was not a good feeling. It was just a little too much in me for the jogging I was doing, but it settled quickly enough. The pain in my thigh was not happy however, and my overall sense of reaching my limit was becoming clear. I figured I had this yard and one more in me. At 52 minutes and 16 seconds, I didn’t really leave myself much time to get through my routine. My appetite was fading and I decided to tell Kari to start packing up the tent and junk as I made my way back to the start for the yard that would put me over 50K and make me an ultramarathon finisher.
YARD 8 – 53 minutes, 12 seconds / 33.33 miles / 12:30 am Saturday
When Tyler the race director yelled go for Yard 8, I could barely get myself going. I began walking and quickly everyone else was into a jog. I willed myself to join them. On the previous lap another runner was running through a rough spot and the lady from Canada reminded him that he may feel bad now but be much better later. I put that in the back of my mind and kept moving forward. I was determined to get through this lap in the allotted sixty-minutes.
As the steps passed I became pretty confident that I would hit my goal of eight total yards, and as I got to the bottom of the Big Hill I glanced at my watch and saw that it read 31.85 miles. There was no celebration, but just some relief. I’d never run this far before. I kept climbing the hill and caught up with Viktoria, the runner from Canada.
Viktoria looked tired as well, and she quickly corrected herself when she made a turn at the top of the Big Hill instead of going straight. She admitted that she had made a few wrong turns, but was able to get back on track again. She started off in the wrong direction again when we made it back to the road, and I made sure that she went the right way. As we ran through the fourth mile, I told her that I was pretty familiar with it from having run it before. She asked if I was the one who wrote the blog about the pre-event course run and I said Yes! She said that she chose to use trail shoes because of how I had described the course.
Seeing that she was from Canada, I asked her if it was mandatory that she liked the band Rush. She said she had never heard of them, which gave me a chuckle. So much for making small talk. She did say that she wasn’t born in Canada, so that explains it a little better. I advised her that I was done after this yard and she was surprised at that because I was running a pretty good pace with her. I said I was just finishing strong to make sure I didn’t miss the cut-off, but I was indeed done. I thought she would be done soon too, but boy was I wrong about that. Viktoria made it through the night and the next day, completing Yard 25 and 125 total miles, finishing third overall. So impressive. It’s so hard to judge these runners and how good they can be.
As I finished I found Kari and asked her if everything was packed up and in the car. She replied no! Coach Kari didn’t believe me when I told her that I was done! But I was in fact done. I had enough. We walked back to the tent and started picking up the tent and stuff, and I just let the warnings of 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute just go in one ear and out the other. As I heard go, I wasn’t on the tarmac for the start, and officially out of the event.
As I walked up to Tyler sitting at his scoring table, I advised him that I was tapping out and that I had a terrific time. “You got your ultramarathon!” he said, and I was very glad to hear those words. I went over and picked out a loser’s rock and threw it into my bag.
NOTES FOR NEXT TIME
I’m very pleased with how I did and I will definitely put this race on my calendar. The race director posted post-race on Facebook that he plans to have it again in April 2022. But as with any race or event, I will want to improve on this year’s total miles. I made plenty of mental notes as I went around the park, so here are a few things that helped me and a few things that I can improve.
A hydration vest wasn’t necessary. Fully loaded with water was enough to cover a large portion of the yards I ran. I was much better off just using the hand-held water bottle and just refilling it after every yard.
I think that the salty snacks were doing a good job providing enough salt for the amount of sweating that I was doing, but regardless, I was still taking a salt capsule after every even yard.
I brought one long-sleeve shirt, four regular shirts, and two sleeveless shirts and only used three of the regular shirts. I should have changed the sweat-soaked shirts and visors more often than I did.
I planned on doing this thing solo, but that would have been dumb. I’m so glad my wife Kari came along to monitor what was going on, knowing full well that I probably wouldn’t be making smart decisions later in the run.
Book a hotel ahead of the event next time.
Having some extra shoes to change into would be beneficial. Mine were very dirty and somewhat sweat soaked as well.
I had a plan of running each yard in about 50 minutes and I executed that very well. I faded a little toward the end, but I don’t believe going faster or slower is a better option. 50 minutes gives you just enough time to refuel, rest, and prep for the next yard.
So there you have it, my first ultramarathon distance of 50K in the books! I can’t wait to give it another go.
The Extra Yard – There was a pro photographer at the event and captured these shots that I am glad to have found.
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 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.