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. The 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 seconds 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.

 

Getting Through Taper Week Without Tantrums

Taper week can do some crazy things to runners.  Some people feel nervous and anxious about the big day.  Without as much running scheduled to ease the mind, nerves can get a bit frazzled.  We worry about losing fitness and gaining weight, we obsessively stalk the weather forecast, and we stress about making sure every last detail is taken care of.

We get the taper tantrums.

As a running coach for Runners Connect, I get a lot of questions about taper week.  Every individual responds to taper a little differently, but there are some basic rules that may help the time go by a little easier, without losing your mind.

What should you eat?  How do you carbo load?

This is one of the questions I get the most.  As a general rule, you do not want to change things up too much in the week before your race because it is not enough time for your body to adjust.  Taper week is not the time to experiment with a radical new diet or stuff yourself with pasta.  You should eat a normal, healthful diet of whole foods, especially plants, just like you should all year round.

Because you are running less during this week, you are not exhausting your muscles’ glycogen stores so they will stay full from a plant-rich diet.

If you are data-driven and need some actual numbers, Runners Connect recommends that you eat 3-5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight during taper.

Every morning, I eat the exact same thing: 2 slices of my homemade whole wheat sourdough bread, lightly slathered with almond butter and jam.  Making homemade bread is something that I just love to do and it’s a great way to fill some restless time during taper that I normally would have spent running.

Fresh loaves of whole wheat sourdough

But I’m careful not to go overboard with the bread.  The main sources of my carbs this week are starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes, and bananas), fruits and veggies, legumes, and whole, unprocessed grains.  The day before the race, I’ll choose those with a little less fiber for easy digestion, making sure that my biggest meal is lunch and not dinner.

When do I back off strength training?

Again, you should not be trying to change things up too much from normal during taper, just back off the length and intensity.  So if you normally strength train twice a week, you should still do that, but your routine should be shorter, with fewer reps and lighter weights (if any).  You should never lift to fatigue during taper.  Remember, you will not gain any fitness taper week.  You are simply going through the motions so that your body is tricked into thinking everything’s normal.

 

 Should I be this tired? I thought taper was supposed to make me feel better!

Some of us just don’t feel good during taper.  Some people even start to get sick because the immune system lets its guard down after months of hard training.

Not feeling great happens to a lot of us because it take 10-12 days to fully recover from hard workouts, which means you are not going to suddenly feel fresh and peppy.

If you do get sick, here are some great tips from elite marathoner and my colleague, Tina Muir.

Should I schedule a massage?

Be careful with this one.  If you normally get weekly massages (lucky you!), then staying with your routine is probably the best plan, as long as you let your therapist know to take it easy on you this week.

But if you do not have a regular massage routine, this is not the time to start.  Massages are wonderful, but they can also leave you sore, which is the opposite of what you want.

What should my goal pace be? 

You should already have determined your goal pace at least a couple weeks before your race so that you get a chance to practice and perfect it.

As much as we runners love round numbers and big goals, that’s not the best way to choose your goal pace.  For anything but your very first marathon where you are simply trying to finish, goal marathon pace should feel a step harder than easy. The more experienced you are at the marathon, the more you can push the effort level.  If you’ve had a good 12-16 week build-up, the goal pace should be something that felt pretty hard the first few weeks, more manageable in the middle, and good (but still a little scary) toward the end.

If you’ve had a less-than great build up, you’ll want to be a bit more conservative.

I love this article that has an assessment about whether or not you are ready for your goal pace.

This is my seventh marathon taper and I’m feeling surprisingly calm and relaxed this time.  It’s as if I have nothing more than a long run on the books for this weekend.  It’s not that I don’t care about the race this weekend–I most certainly do–but this time, my perspective has changed.  For the better.

Part of this comes from experience.  I’ve been through this before and I know that allowing myself to stress about the race for an entire week does nothing but harm.  I am determined to run this race to the best of my ability which includes sticking to conservative speed limits in the first half and then just seeing where my legs will take me.

With any luck, it will be my best race yet.