A story of going from being a non-runner to planning for a marathon in three years...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon Race Report

I don't even know where to begin. When I told people in my running club that I was doing Milwaukee I got a lot of "Oh, that race is great!" and "That's one of my favorite races!" comments. Having only ever run one other marathon I had no idea what would constitute a great marathon for me.

I'd heard varying things about the course. It's hilly, it's not so hilly. There are no spectators, spectator support is great. I honestly had no idea what to expect and didn't even look up any other race reports online until Thursday or Friday of last week. The only thing I heard consistently was "Watch out for the downhill at mile 23."

At the last minute (i.e. Saturday evening) I decided I wanted a knee brace for my left knee. I figured I'd rather be safe than sorry and I knew I could always ditch it at an aid station or mile marker and pick it up after the race. Just one of the perks they advertised at this race. Kim and I did a three mile run on Saturday night just to shake out our legs and the knee brace was fine after some adjusting.

So at 4:00 AM on Sunday we got up and met our ride at 5:00. Since this course is a point-to-point race we had to get to the start and have someone pick us up at the finish. Thanks to an offer of a carpool from one of Kim's running club buddies our husbands got to sleep in and meet us during the later miles.

I stepped out of the car at the start and immediately began to wonder if I'd under-dressed. A tank top and shorts felt pretty chilly in the 40oF morning. Thank goodness for my throw away jacket and gear check! After a quick port-a-potty stop and some last minute race prep I shed my warm-up pants and we walked to the start line.

Much different than Chicago! I could see the actual start line. The race directors had a sense of humor with pace signs that ranged from "Under 2:02" (the world record marathon time is 2:03:38, FYI) to "Same Day" and the atmosphere, while buzzing with energy, felt more laid back. We positioned ourselves just in front of the 5:00 hour pacer since we thought this would keep us from going out too fast and since our goal was just to finish under 5 hours. I did a few stretches and then it was time to run!

I wish I could give you a mile by mile play by play but I can't. Actually, you're probably happy about that. Anyway, I remember ditching my jacket at mile 1. I remember how beautiful the trees looked as we ran through wooded rural areas. I remember that we could see everyone's breath in the morning air. I remember that our husbands texted Kim to say they'd see us just before mile 12.

I remember thinking we might be running too fast so we kept telling ourselves to slow down. Didn't want to waste all my energy early, a mistake I learned from at Chicago.

I remember smiling. I remember thinking about how much fun I was having. My hip didn't hurt. My knee didn't hurt. My shin didn't hurt. I was in awe at how great I felt. We passed the 4:40 pace group around mile 8 and they never caught us again.

We took our scheduled walk breaks every two miles and occasionally stopped at water stations to fill up our fuel belts. I took my shot bloks every two miles and switched to alternating regular ones with caffeinated ones at mile 10. I hammed it up for Jason and Kim's husband Steven when we saw them on the course.

Kim and I talked but I don't remember what we talked about. We checked in with one another every so often and we both seemed to be doing fine. I would say that with the exception of one short steep uphill the rest were so mild as to not be noticeable unless you pushed yourself too hard. There were some downhills, though, but I'm strong on downhills so I barely even noticed.

At some point we left the wooded and rural areas and ended up in more residential neighborhoods or running along slightly more major streets. This part wasn't as pretty but every so often you would catch a glimpse of Lake Michigan behind the houses and I would marvel at how beautiful it looked with the sun sparkling on it.

The majority of the course was shaded so it really was the best of both worlds. A beautiful sunny fall day that was cool and shady enough that I felt great. The spectators were great, too. Not too many that it felt overwhelming, but enough that you got good support. We heard "Go Team Purple!" and "Go Twins!" a lot. People may think wearing matching outfits is cheesy, but I think it's great.

Eventually we came across two of Kim's running club friends who were out cheering for us in the later miles. One of them ran with us for almost a full mile which I think gave Kim a much needed boost and made the mile go by really quickly for me.

We saw our husbands again near mile 22. "How are you doing?" Jason asked. "GREAT!" I replied, grinning like a fool. I really was. Just four more miles, I thought. That's nothing. The downhill at mile 23.5 wasn't even that bad. Not the "quad-killer" I'd been told it was.

Kim was starting to flag, though, and I did my best to tow her along. I kept thinking it was too bad we weren't tied together like the "Jennipede" that was taking place during this race. 64 people tied together trying to break the world record for most people chained together to finish a marathon. They were raising money to support Jenny Crain, an elite runner who was hit by a car and suffered serious brain trauma.

Eventually Kim told me to go ahead. She was running a great pace but my legs wanted to go faster. I felt horrible for leaving her but thought if I was in front and she could still see me that I would be her rabbit. The last two miles were the only time I started to feel a little tired but I think that's because we were running in the full sun. Kim caught me at the last aid station and we walked for a bit together at mile 25. I didn't really need to but I thought it would help her out. I already knew I was going to blow my original goal out of the water and that's all that mattered to me.

Then at mile 25.5 a volunteer was calling out times. Throughout the course the volunteers at the mile markers would tell you what your finish time would be if you kept up that pace. When the volunteer at 25.5 shouted out "4:32!" I thought, "Oh my god. Does that mean I could finish in 4:32? I started almost two miles after the clock started. Could I finish sub-4:30???" And I took off.

I crossed the finish line feeling great.

In fact, I felt amazing. I didn't leave the finish chute right away but instead waited for Kim to finish. When I saw her a minute or so behind me I cheered my heart out and grabbed her in a huge hug when she crossed the mat.

Post-race I didn't even feel that bad. I actually felt worse after Ragnar. I mean, I was tired and my feet were sore but it was nothing compared to Chicago. No tears of exhaustion. No leg pain. No state of delirium. Just pure elation. I wanted to break 5 hours. 4:45 seemed like a good dream goal. To finish in 4:36:58 seemed unreal.

Now I know why so many people said good things about this race. Maybe I'd feel that way about any race if it went as well as it went on Sunday, but perhaps there's a little bit of magic in Milwaukee.

If only that magic would extend to making the huge blister on my right big toe go away we'd really be in business. But, really, if a huge blister and sore calves and hips is all I have to give for a day that will go down as one of the best in my life? I'll gladly pay it.

Milwaukee Lakefront Marthon by snmnstrz21 at Garmin Connect - Details

P.S. You can also read Kim's report here.