Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Madison Marathon Race Report

Race Eve
Wow! What a race. It started uneventfully enough, but ended with a lot of angst when at Mile 24 I realized my timing chip had fallen off! Awful! A marathoner's worst nightmare! But after a stop at the timing tent, a sleepless night and a few emails all is well again in the world of sisterbison. Phew!

With so much drama in the last 2 miles of the race, it's hard to reflect back on the whole thing. But for you, dear readers, I will do my best:) Adam was kind enough to drive me and my friend Sara from Chicago to Madison while we slept. Yes, slept. Sara ran the Soldier Field 10 Miler Saturday morning and with me coming off working nights......all it took was a few sentences of Adam's audiobook and we were out and when we woke up, we were in Madison. Perfect!

Adam and I had our pre-race dinner at Nostrano right off the capital square (separate post to follow), then walked around the square taking pictures. Then, like good runners, we went to bed by 9. Woke up race morning to cool temps, fog, and an overcast sky- perfect race weather. Gotta love Spring marathons. They may be wet, but they usually aren't hot like the Fall.

Hey there, nausea, let's be friends:
The medal cart the night before the race
The first few miles were, as usual, painful. I was running comfortably from a lung, heart and leg standpoint but I was so nauseated. I was nauseous before I even started running, though, so I kept telling myself that I'd be nauseous whether or not I'm running, so I might as well keep running. I played leapfrog with the HUGE 4:00 pace group for most of the first half. At one point, I passed a bystander whose sign said "Run fast- there's a RHINO behind you" to which I said "yeah, it's called the 4 hour pace group" and got a few laughs.

Mile 1: 8:54
Mile 2: 9:02
Mile 3: 8:44
Mile 4: 9:12
Mile 5: 9:22

The section through the Arboretum was very pretty but I just wasn't comfortable so didn't appreciate it very much. Overall, this is a great course. Past multiple lakes, through some beautiful neighborhoods w/ huge homes, multiple miles through the Arboretum. Rolling hills, but only 2 that were bad. More on that in a bit.

At this point, I wasn't feeling great. My perceived effort was just a bit higher than I thought I could maintain. But every time I decided to slow a bit, or walk through a water stop, to let the 4:00 group pass me, when I started running again my legs had a mind of their own and would pick up the pace and I'd pass the 'rhino' group again. I didn't really know what to do with that. So I decided to just run, probably too fast, knowing that I'd likely crash and burn.

Mile 6: 8:34
Mile 7: 9:33
Mile 8: 8:41

PR or not to PR, that is the question:
I was still a bit ahead of the 4:00 group, and I was making myself dizzy with the internal monologue in my head- should I go for it...again? For a second time in 2 weeks? And am I thinking sub 4:05 (current PR 4:05 and change) or should I even consider going for a sub-4:00?  Note that I did not have a single ache or pain anywhere so I thought my body probably could handle it. But I knew that it would feel a heck of a lot harder than it did on 5/15. The Rockford Marathon felt almost magical- everything just came together and a large part of it felt "easy". Nothing would feel easy about trying to pull together a similar race on 5/29.

So, around Mile 9-10 I made a conscious decision that I was not going to kill myself. Every race does not have to be magical...or a PR....or even particularly significant. I like running long and organized marathons are a fun way to see a town and be entertained by spectators and other runners along the way. So I chose to pull back. I intentionally walked until the 4:00 group was way far ahead and then decided to just keep moving w/o any focus on time. My splits correspondingly lengthened, but not by much.

Mile 9: 8:50
Mile 10: 10:00 (letting the 4:00 group pass)
Mile 11: 8:51
Mile 12: 9:04
Mile 13: 9:40
Mile 14: 9:43

Smart race:
From Mile 14 on, I tried to run an energy conserving "smart race". Despite my admonitions to myself about not focusing on time, I thought a sub 4:15 would be nice. And I decided that I would not allow myself to go slower than 4:30.

It's interesting, I believe I ran both Rockford and Madison "smartly", in their own ways. In Rockford, I went out comfortably/slow holding back to allow my heart to warm up, then exerted myself more in the middle miles to bank time in case I crashed near the end. Then when the feared crash never happened, I kept telling myself to stay calm, don't freak out, just keep running because I knew something special (for me) was happening and I didn't want to mess it up.

My "smart" race strategy in Madison (once I nixed the PR idea) was to walk through water stations, run like hell down the downhills, and walk any crazy steep uphills if I wanted to. Giving myself permission to take those little breaks prevented me from allowing my run to turn into a walk>run disaster.

Mile 15: 10:15
Mile 16: 9:42
Mile 17: 10:17
Mile 18: 10:05

"I'm the winner":
Then my folks appeared! Hurrah! The race was beginning to feel a bit tedious at that point and I just wanted to be done. To check Wisconsin off the list of 50 in 50. To qualify for Marathon Maniacs. To eat back the calories I burned. So thank goodness for my Dad, Mom and cousin Anna-Lisa. They were on bikes (the course was quite wide and the runners pretty thinned out) and provided me with much entertainment from Miles 19-22. Oh, it was so great. I joked that I had my own escort like the race winner and I decided that "I'm the winner". I asked them for a new right foot, then modified it to a new right big toe (why be greedy?). I asked them about Adam's race (he had finished the 1/2 by then), and about the wedding A-L had been to the night before (she was spectating on 2 hours of sleep, people! Amazing!).

Some of the spectators started cheering for my family: "Go bikers", "Keep it up bikers, looking good" which totally cracked me up. My favorite sign of the race had to be this one:

I can never thank my family enough- they really got me through those miles and there would have been walking if not for them. They were the difference between a 4:25 and my 4:11 finish.

Mile 19: 9:53
Mile 20: 10:03
Mile 21: 10:05
Mile 22: 9:47

Mid-Race Math=Huge Margin of Error:
At mile 22, there was a clock. And the clock said 3:30. Since I totally had stopped paying attention to time, my confused, wet (it was raining by then) brain thought '"oh hell no, I have to sprint now because I have a chance at a sub-4:00". Just glancing at the splits above, you can see that was clearly crazy. It took me a good 3 minutes to realize the clock was set for the 1/2 marathoners who started 12 minutes after us. Sure enough, my Garmin said 3:42. So I relaxed a bit.

Mile 23: 9:59

You've Got to be Kidding Me:
At mile 24 for some reason I looked at my right shoe and noticed.....no timing chip! Ahh!! Runner's worst nightmare, right? Soon thereafter I saw Sara and Elizabeth spectating and ran up to them, interrupted their enthusiastic cheering, and asked if they "wanted to hear the saddest thing ever"? (Don't judge- it seemed like a catastrophe in my 24-miles-in brain:( ). They both looked appropriately appalled, paused, then starting cheering wildly again. A perfect response:) Thank you ladies:)

Mile 24: 9:27
Mile 25: 9:44
Mile 26: 9:43

You've REALLY Got to be Kidding Me:
WAS THAT LAST HILL REALLY NECESSARY??? Here in Chicago, we joke about Mt. Roosevelt, a short but painful "hill" right after Mile 26 in the Chicago Marathon.  This hill was infinitely worse. You could see it approaching from almost a mile away, so plenty of time for dread to set in. Then it just.....lasts.....forever. It even continues into the finish gate! It continues after you make the final turn! It never stops! Again, my family saved me. My Dad was there at the bottom of the hill ready to run me to the gate. So there was no walking to be done. Rule number #1 of marathoning in my book is don't disappoint the spectators!! Thanks, Dad, you were a lifesaver!

Mile 0.2: 9:32 (as you can see, I couldn't even muster a final sprint after that hill)

My aunt and uncle were nice enough to have our stinky selves over for a post-race lunch. And to use their shower, which I'm sure no one appreciates more than my friend, Sara, because she was going to have to ride in the car w/ us back to the city:) It was great to catch up with family- thanks to Donna and Steve for a great afternoon!

Adam and I

Parting Advice:
DON'T LOSE YOUR TIMING CHIP! Never have I been so happy to see a result FINALLY pop up. Between the 3 checkpoints I did make it to and some finish line pictures, the Chief Timing Guy and the Race Director made it happen and I "officially" finished Marathon #9! Now to pick #10; it better be a good one!


  1. WOW! congrats! i would strangle someone if i lost my chip, especially in a full! yikes.

  2. Holy smokes I think I would cry if I lost my timing chip! Good job not letting anything stop you! Sub 4:15 is still totally awesome sauce in my book!!!!