Race Report: 2017 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon

I am finally a three-hour marathoner.  Not a sub-three-hour marathoner, but a three-almost-on-the-nose marathoner.

I imagine I now know how Eliud Kipchoge felt when he didn’t quite break the two-hour barrier last May coming in at 2:00:25.

My official time was 3:00:29, 6.5 minutes faster than my best race in January. Sooooo close!

While I still don’t have that 2 next to my name, I’m still so happy and proud.

The runners’ ritual laying out of race clothes the night before.

When I heard that the forecast called for mid-50s-60s and a 20mph headwind, I have to admit, I was nervous.  The temperature was a little warm for good racing, but not terrible.

But the headwind?  That’s like running through molasses. (Here’s how much the wind will affect your pace.)

Then I remembered that the race planned to have a 3-hour pace group.  Those are a bit hard to find in smaller races since you have to be a lot faster than that to be able to lead a group comfortably, so I hoped I could just tuck in behind the pacer and draft.

Turns out there was a big pack of us and we stayed in a tight formation for 23 miles.

Early in the race feeling great! The dude behind me in orange mentioned how well we coordinated.

Before the race, I was careful to eat and drink everything exactly the same way I had done in January at the Charleston Marathon since it worked so well.

I had prepared two bottles of my lemonade starch fuel but this time, I used 60g of tapioca starch instead or corn starch and added 10g of corn syrup for glucose with 5g of powdered fructose.  Each 8oz bottle contained 275 calories and 67g of carbohydrate.

But just like Charleston, I ended up only using one.

Miles 1-5:  6:44, 6:42, 6:54, 6:45, 6:52

When I found out that Thomas, our pacer, was a 2:35 marathoner, I decided to ignore my watch and just blindly trust him.  I knew I would need a pack to brace against the wind as well as the mental relief of not having to worry about pace.  He told me at the start that he planned to run even splits which is what I wanted.

This is a flat course with a slight downhill so aiming for negative splits (second half faster than the first) had a big risk of backfiring.  Not to mention, I’ve never, ever run negative splits, so I wasn’t going to start now.

I occasionally checked my watch, but mostly ignored it.

The pack of 20 or so runners was so tight that we occasionally bumped elbows or clipped each other’s heels.  As I bumped the guy in the navy singlet next to me for the third time, I said, “I’m just going to apologize now for the whole race!”

Miles 6-10:  6:54, 6:54, 6:49, 6:49, 6:51. 10k split: 42:24 (6:49/mile pace)

This stretch of the race weaved through cornfields with dairy cows mooing at us in the early golden light.  We crossed the 10k timing mat and Thomas said we were right on target.

I try to avoid doing any kind of math when I’m running hard, so I took his word for it.

The pace was feeling fine and I was taking sips of my drink every other mile or so.  I was sure to grab a cup of water at each aid station and it turned out to be like a well-choreographed dance as each member of our pack held out an arm to grab a cup from a volunteer.

Miles 11-15:  6:55, 6:49, 6:54, 6:44, 6:40. Half marathon split: 1:30:05 (6:52/mile pace)

Coming through the half with nearly perfectly even splits was certainly reassuring.  As a coach, I so often talk about running negative splits, so there was a little twinge of wondering if the pace was too fast, but I let that thought evaporate as quickly as it popped up.

Looking at it later, wow, mile 15 was fast!  Good thing I wasn’t looking at my watch or I would have slowed down!

Miles 16-20:  6:47, 6:43, 6:53, 6:45, 6:54. Twenty Mile split: 2:16:58 (6:50/mile pace)

At this point we were winding through oak-lined neighborhoods of beautiful historic homes.  Our pack had grown smaller, but was still about 10 people.  The two other women that started in the pack with me had faded.

The pace was still feeling fine for me at this point, but the wind was picking up.  I allowed myself to wonder what would happen if I could speed up in the last 10k.  But I knew I didn’t want to lose the wind protection and the mental boost of the group so I stayed put.

My biggest goal was to stay strong where the race really begins–the final 10K

Miles 21-26.2:  6:52, 6:56, 6:49, 6:44, 7:23, 7:17, 7:10 (pace).  Final time 3:00:29

I was really happy that I felt as strong as I did after crossing the 20 mile mark.  I warned myself not to get too excited because there was a long way to go.

“If there is any day that you can do this,” I thought, “it’s today.”

At mile 23, I even started wondering if now was the time to leave the pack and speed up.  I didn’t want a 3 hour time, I wanted a sub-three!  But I knew as we left the protection of the neighborhoods and headed down to the beach, the winds would be in full force and I didn’t want to be alone for that.

Little did I know…

At some point Thomas mentioned there would be a good downhill at mile 24 before the flat beach and that last year he had taken the group 30 seconds too fast through it.  I quite liked that idea, but just before we got there, the pack started pulling away.

I thought that I was slowing down, I had no idea that they were speeding up.

I lost contact with them even though I was running a sub-three-hour pace.  I just didn’t know it.

So by the time I got down to the lake, I was all alone.

All by myself in front of Bradford Beach, Lake Michigan. They guy in the background would eventually pass me.

The full force of the 20mph headwinds hit me like a brick wall.  One of the bike support volunteers (you can see her shadow in the picture above) told me that I was in third place.

Convinced that the pace group minutes ahead of me was on pace and I had fallen behind, I struggled to run as hard as I could the last two miles.  I was not giving up and I do not think I could have run any harder than I did at that point.

I asked the biker if there was any woman behind me.

“Nope,” she replied, “this is all you.”

Oh, how I wish she had said, “Yes!  She’s right behind you!!”

As I entered the finishing chute, I gave it everything I had and I was shocked to see how close I actually was to three hours.

What? So I wasn’t that far behind after all?
So surprised and happy! The finish line clock was a few second behind the official time.

When I talked with my coach, Jeff Gaudette, I told him I was worried that not taking in enough fuel played a big factor.  He said that probably wasn’t the case.

“80-90% of the time you lost was due to the wind,” he told me. “But more importantly, what slowed you was mental.

“When the pack pulled away from you,” he said, “you thought your goal was shot.”  I subconsciously slowed down, even though consciously I was fighting as hard as I could.

Obviously, had I looked at my watch, I would have seen where I was, but at that point, I felt it didn’t matter.  If I was running as hard as I possibly could go, what did the time matter?

Apparently, a lot.

Had I realized that I was not only on pace, but under pace during mile 25, Jeff told me, I would have gotten a shot of confidence and adrenaline that could have taken me to the the finish line just a little faster.

I’m also not in the habit of looking at overall time on a run.  I look at pace, mile splits, and distance and ignore everything else.

Heck, if I simply had just the time of day showing, I would have known how close I was!  Something to remember for next time.

But overall, I am thrilled with this race.  I ended up finishing in 3rd place and I also have the swanky new title of being the 2017 Wisconsin State Female Master’s Champion!

“Don’t cha wish you coulda run 30 seconds faster, Mama?” asked my 8-year-old son the moment I got home.

Yes, of course I do.  But this is still pretty good.

 

Is Less Really More? My New Approach to Marathon Training

Every marathon I’ve run is a completely different experience than the last.

It’s the same distance and the same drama, but yet each one is unique.

I’ve been over-eager to “prove” my abilities and I’ve been hopeful just to finish well, whatever that meant.

This time, yet again, is different.

While my mileage overall ended up a bit higher than I’ve ever done, I dramatically changed the structure of my training.

Gone were the soul-crushing, almost-guaranteed-to-fail cut down workouts (where even mile is supposed to get progressively faster), as well as some big gear-changing runs that drop down to 5k pace at mile 9 that I was rarely be able to accomplish well.

Instead, I played to my strengths and chose workouts I was good at.

I spent more time at the track doing what most runners would classify as 5k work: repetitions of 200 meters or 400 meters at no faster than 5k pace but with quick jogging recovery periods.  This allowed me to spend a good chunk of time at high speed in one workout, but without struggling mentally or physically.

If you’ve never run 200 meters at your 5k pace, it feels very easy, even after the 24th one! I highly recommend this workout if you are also feeling drained from long, tough tempos or threshold work.

The other thing I did differently is I dropped a workout per week most weeks.

I have been running two workouts a week plus a long run for several cycles now.  It just seemed like this was the thing to do.  Sure I was beat down trying to run a tempo on a Thursday after a hard day at the track on Tuesday, but this is marathon training, right?  You are supposed to be tired and sore!

Actually, no, you are not.

First off, only allowing one easy day in between workouts was not enough time to recover for me.  I was not able to run to my full ability on Thursday, but I never connected that it was the lack of recovery time.

I thought it was just me not being “good” enough.

Then one week, I shifted the second workout to Friday to see if I would feel better.  And it worked.

For a while.

Later I learned from some of the (much faster!) runners that I look up to that some of them only do one workout a week with the long run instead of two when they are deep into marathon training.

Really?  That sounds almost blasphemous!  How could you possibly get in all the stimulation that you need for a solid build up on only one hard day a week?

Then I tried it.

Basically, I ran less hard overall, ran the workouts that made me confident instead of defeated, and let the easy miles flow.

Now I’m not saying I just took it easy or did not challenge my limits, however.  I worked hard and ran hard when I needed to.

What I didn’t do was buy into the “one-size-fits-all plan for marathon success.” 

And I have never felt better or stronger in my life.

No makeup, no Photoshop, no filter. Heck, not even a shower! Just ready as I can be.

My key workouts in the last few weeks have gone really well and I feel fresh and well-rested.

Marathon pace is feeling achievable (yet still a touch scary!).

The other thing that I’ve learned this year is that time goals are like bars of wet soap:  the tighter you hold on to them, the easier they slip away.

Of course I’d love to break three hours in the marathon, but that would be just the cherry on the sundae. (Okay, who am I kidding, that would be a huge fu@&ing cherry, but go with me here.)

What I really want to do is run a brave last 10k.  After more than two and a quarter hours of running, I want to be able do what I have trained for, no matter what the weather brings or what the clock says.

The time is important to me, but what matters even more is that I show up for those last 6.2 miles with the same determination and hunger that I have now writing these words.

If I am brave and focused and leave everything I’ve got out there then I cannot fail, even if the minutes click past the magical, yet ultimately arbitrary, three hour mark.

Although one small setback happened today that I hope does not affect race day:

Ahhh!!!

I was five miles into a ten mile run and I had to pee.  As I slowed to a stop, I wasn’t paying attention to my feet and my right ankle just gave way.  Nothing tripped me or got in my way, I just landed wrong and down I went.

I’ve injured my right ankle many times before, so it has been weakened in the past, but it’s been a very long time since it’s given me any issues.

It certainly hurt, but I was hopeful that it was mild.  I jogged a bit further and while it wasn’t excruciating, it didn’t make any sense to run 5 more miles home.  So I called my mom who lives in the neighborhood and she picked me up.

Five hours later as I write this, it still hurts some, but happily (and weirdly) there is virtually no swelling, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign.  I will baby it as much as I can over the next few days and my fingers are crossed that it’s minor and heals quickly.

I guess that’s one way to force rest during taper week!

I’m planning on taking it day by day and staying positive.

Assuming the ankle is good, will my less-is-more approach be successful on race day or should I have worked harder to “conquer” the workouts that I’ve struggled with in the past?

I suppose I will find out in a week, but in a way, it might not matter.

I have already succeeded in creating a way of training that works for me.  I feel better, faster, and happier.

And feeling better most of the time seems like a more holistic approach to both training and my life no matter what happens in the few hours of the race.

So maybe the difference this time is not so much about how I changed my training.

It’s about how it has changed me.

 

Can I Start Marathon Training Yet?

After taking the spring off of racing marathons, I am so ready to get back to it.

I feel like I’ve been wearing someone else’s wardrobe for the past few months by racing 5 and 10Ks and nothing ever fit right.  I just want to put my jeans and t-shirt back on and get back to my passion.

So I have chosen my fall race, the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon on October 1.

The course is a lovely, point-to-point race along Lake Michigan.  With only a couple hundred feet of elevation drop over the entire course, it is about as flat as you can get.

Here’s the course profile for the first half:

Course elevation profiles always look a little more dramatic than they actually are.  The little rises and falls will feel almost imperceptible over this distance.

And the last 5K has a nice little descent which will be welcome at that point!

Besides the favorable course and the likelihood of good racing weather, the other reason for choosing Milwaukee is because I went to college there at Marquette University.  It’s always nice to go back and visit and hopefully catch up with some of my dearest friends from back in the day.

My sister also lives in Wisconsin, so hopefully she’ll be able to come out and be ready with a steaming bag of french fries for me at the finish line!

Milwaukee is a beautiful, fun city and while I didn’t run in college, I’m really looking forward to running there this fall.

Besides the race itself, I am mainly looking forward to getting back into the long grind of marathon training.  I know that sounds crazy to anyone who doesn’t run them, but I like the sense of accomplishment I feel when I train for a marathon.  I haven’t really fallen in love with the shorter races as I had hoped, and I have been a bit disappointed that I haven’t seen my times improve this spring.

Well, actually, I’m not sure if that’s true or not.  My racing times certainly haven’t improved, but there have been a few bright spots in workouts that have given me hope.

Nothing dramatic or clear cut, but a few track laps here and there that I know that I wouldn’t have been able to hit a year ago.

Little moments that show me that I’ve got it in me, I just need to coax it out at times.

For now, I’ve got one last 5K to race tomorrow and that’s the Downhill at Dusk 5K that I raced last year.  (Just rereading my race report is making me wonder why I’m doing this to myself again.)  It’s a very steep downhill the first mile, cruising to flat the second, with a nasty little crest at the end.

I’ve got no goal this year, except just to race it hard with an open mind and see what happens.

Because as soon as I cross that finish line, marathon training begins.