Wisconsin Half Marathon Race Recap

On Saturday I ran my spring goal race! It was awesome. 5/5 stars, would run again.  I had an great time and the weather was perfect. The course was pretty and the "Blues Brothers/Bleu Cheese" theme gave the whole event a level of silliness I appreciated.

Throwback splits from the Brooklyn Half last year.

Throwback splits from the Brooklyn Half last year.

Back in January I plucked a number from the air and made it my goal: 1:45. I picked this because it would mean taking a whole minute per mile off of my year-old PR from the Brooklyn Half (1:57), and because it was what McMillan suggested is an equivalent half time for someone who eventually wants to BQ. Because I lost a few essential training weeks, I knew this goal was now out of my reach.

In the week before this race I struggled to come up with a new race strategy. I was pretty confident I could PR but as far specific time goals, I was lost. I couldn't think of a number I'd like to see on my watch that would make me feel happy. 1:45 was what I really wanted -- so now what?

For inspiration, I thought back to my previous goal races. I remembered how crappy I felt after Brooklyn because even though I PR'd by over 9 minutes, I ran a completely idiotic race and suffered from mile 5 on. I ran-walked most of Ocean Parkway because I had gone out way too fast.

In the ZipCar on the way there, I realized that I honestly didn't care that much about my time anymore. Instead, what would make me happiest would be to run that thing people talk about all the time -- a "smart race." So for the first time basically in my life, I decided to try my very best to run even splits by choosing a challenging -- but not insane -- pace from the beginning and holding on to it.

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I also thought about what Lauren Fleshman said about how she felt before before the Olympic Trials and throwing down a truly kick ass race.

My goal was to be courageous. My only goal was to be courageous enough to get to the starting line feeling less than what I’m used to being. I don’t feel like the athlete that I am inside, but sometimes you have to work with what you got.
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On the walk to the start line, I decided to let go of any time expectations I had -- and with them, all of my uncertainty. I started to relax. My ankle didn't matter any more. I had done the best training I could, and now all I had to do was run for a while and not quit on myself.

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The weather was perfect: exactly 50 degrees and overcast, with the sun peeking through and a very slight wind.

The pre-race stuff felt really relaxed (or maybe I was just really relaxed, finally?) Everything was right there and easy to see and get to. The lines were fine. There was no incessant loudspeaker chatter or JockJams on repeat, which I appreciated, and everybody seemed to be in a great mood and just happy to go run some miles together.

We had a moment of silence for Boston followed by the national anthem. Right after the gun sounded and just before I crossed the timing mat, I realized that in my rush to get in the car that morning, I had loosely tied my shoes and hadn't double-knotted them. I pulled over before crossing the start line and double-knotted, and THEN I was off.

(That reminds me: I accidentally changed a bunch of my race variables all at once. First, I forgot all my fuel at home. My pockets were empty. Gatorade was offered on the course, but I never drink Gatorade and figured I shouldn't start now. Third, I ate an unconventional pre-race breakfast: an asiago bagel with veggie cream cheese. I was too lazy to go get cereal or something else after work on Friday and figured this would keep me more full than would the only other breakfast food I had at home -- yogurt and granola (my normal breakfast). 

I never thought I'd actually be glad that I'd forgotten to fuel on every single long run during training! I kept meaning to do it but I never did. So yeah, I forgot my fuel for the race but at least I'm consistent.)

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Mile 1 was a little congested because (to my knowledge) there were no corrals, and I was pretty far back. I just tried to settle into an "feels-easy-for-a-race" pace as quickly as possible. My hands were cold but otherwise I felt great.

The people around me started taking their gels pretty early, and I eyed them, half-hoping someone would offer me one. I saw a few pouches on the ground that seemed like they had just fallen out of someone's hands or pockets, and I actually considered picking them up (my running brain makes some dicey decisions.)

We were running south, parallel to the lake, through residential streets with stately lakeshore houses. I told myself that I'm running a 3.1 mile race with a 10 mile warmup: I'm going to run 10 miles like normal, and spend the entire time chilling until it's time to GO. I can't believe that this actually worked, but it did. I was really relaxed and the miles began to tick off quickly. I was in a great pack of runners who were really steady. I just kind of rotated whose shoulder I sat on and enjoyed the scenery, the spectators, and the sick playlist I had made the night before. And, my ankle didn't hurt!!

There were a few "hills" (by Midwestern standards) that broke up the course. A pretty significant portion of the race was right along the beach, and the rest was through Kenosha's main street, where spectators sat outside on the sidewalk in camp chairs and high-fived us. The best sign I saw said, "Pain is temporary. Internet results are forever."

Soon the first five miles were over and I focused on maintaining my pace and being OK with feeling like I was working a little harder. We entered a long out-and-back segment that began around mile 5 or so. It was a wide road with the beach on one side and nothing on the other side. The second I saw the leaders pass me coming back, a tiny clock started ticking in my head and I just couldn't wait to turn around myself. It felt so wonderful to go through the hairpin turn and retrace my steps. At that point (around mile 9) I still felt completely fine, but I half-expected that my race would fall apart soon. My mind tried to combat that by saying, "Hmm? Fall apart soon? That's an interesting thought! I want you to tell me more about that later. Maybe in like 30 minutes?" I know the brain kind of compartmentalizes itself during running and other physically stressful and/or adrenaline-pumping activities, but it always feels so surreal when it happens to me.

I ran the second five miles in almost exactly the same time as the first five miles. Nearly even splits at mile 10 -- that's definitely a first!

I was still feeling very good and this is the point at which I wanted to speed up -- but when I tried to move my legs faster, nothing happened. When my watch beeped at mile 11, I checked my lap pace expecting to see 7:xx, but saw 8:22 instead. I kept trying to find speed and decided not to look at my watch again until I crossed the finish line because I didn't want to get frustrated if I was moving slower than I thought. 

At mile 12 I saw a girl in neon pink shirt I'd been running near for the first half of the race until I lost her. I was so happy to find her again and focused on reeling her in until I passed her. 

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A six minute PR, and I even managed to negative split this thing! 

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I felt awesome for almost the entire race. My ankle was better than it normally is. About 5 minutes of bliss followed, and then I started wondering if I could have/should have gone out a tiny bit faster -- would I have been able to go sub 1:50?

In any case, I'm really happy!

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