Sunday, September 2, 2012

Madison 1/2 Marathon Report

....well....1/2 Marathon.....

The week leading up to the Madison Marathon was a roller coaster. The temperatures had spiked, and the Madison Marathon organizers had reported on Facebook that there was a high probability of race cancellation. Temperatures were expected to be in the 90's with high humidity. The organizers fully admitted that they couldn't move the start time forward due to agreements with the city of Madison.

Finally, on Thursday night they announced that the full marathon was cancelled. That didn't affect us much, as we had registered for the 1/2 marathon. However, they also stated all full marathon runners could run the 1/2 marathon distance. That told me that the field was going to be very full for most of the race.

We told ourselves that this would be a race about "being smart"....we told ourselves that we just "need to finish in one piece"...and that we "wouldn't push it".

We were lying to ourselves...and we knew it.

Becky and I went to the University of Madison, so part of us will always call it home. Any time we get to go back to that home of 4-5 years, we welcome it. We arrived early and parked just off Capital Square, where the start line was located. Unlike most races we run in, this race has no wave corrals. Just a big open area where everyone can get set where they feel like it. We knew we were back-of-the-pack people, so we found a comfortable spot about 3/4 of the way back of the starting line.

The temperatures were still comfortable, with spotty clouds overhead helping to shield the rising sun. We decided we would just run our race, and stay comfortable.

We had our pre-race instructions, at which point we were informed that those runners with yellow backgrounds on their bibs were current or ex-military. It was nice to see them honored in that way. I think it's always a boost to know those that protect our freedoms are out on the course with us.  The national anthem was performed, and we were off.

The course goes immediately downhill from the square and skirts near the UW campus. It then takes a turn and heads northeast away from campus. The crowd was shoulder to shoulder in this area, and we were getting blown away by faster runners. At about 1.5 miles in, we hit the first water stop, which was not at all prepared for the amount of runners that hit it at one time. We decided to get water, and as we approached the table, Becky fell because of the amount of plastic cups on the ground. We got past the tables and did a quick check to make sure she was okay, and continued on.

At mile 2, there was a "beer stop" being run by college kids that was offering beer and bacon. These guys gotta move to like mile 10 or 11 of a race. I don't want beer that early....late in the race - sure. Also in this area was a sign with a Bill Clinton mask that read "Just keep going - don't pull out. That's what she said!"

At about mile 4, we stopped for our first restroom break. The sun had finally taken full effect. Becky stopped at the port-a-potty for a bathroom break and I hit up some GU for electrolytes. When we continued, we decided to take a slower approach for awhile.

The course continued through a more affluent neighborhood, and toward the Governor's mansion. This race was right in the middle of the recall madness in Wisconsin, so a lot of comments were made about the governor in this area. The residents that lived in this area were awesome, however. Many had sprinklers set up on their front curb for runners to go through, or had their hoses running for runners to take a quick drink.

After passing the Governor's Mansion, we passed mile 5, at which point an ex marine was firing up the crowd around us, chanting "Alive at 5! Alive at 5!" He literally ran back and forth in the pack in that area, giving anybody who needed it an uplift. We were happy with our mile 5 time (right around an hour even), and kept moving forward, as this area of the city had a lot of trees that provided nice shade to run in. In addition, the crowd had finally started to thin out, giving us room to really settle into a pace without worrying about those around us. Before we knew it, we were at the 10k mark.

The course started getting boring for a little while after that. The run through Tenney Park was nice, where we stopped for fueling and another bathroom break.
The area after Tenney Park was exposed to the sun, so it was slow going, as the heat was really starting to ramp up. Add to that a large part of the course was a commercial area with nothing but concrete and buildings, which added to the perceived heat. Going from almost total shade to that was a huge transition.

Eventually, we made the turn and headed back toward the Capitol. I warned Becky that we would actually pass the capitol and then make a turn around on John Nolen Drive, and then go in for the final stretch.

Little did I know that John Nolen Drive would be the death of us. As pictured, John Nolen Drive is very picturesque, sitting between lakes Menona and Wingra. However, the sun was beating down on the course at this point, and there was absolutely no shade and nothing but concrete around, making it all worse. Somewhere on this stretch, my right hamstring started giving me issues by cramping up. I knew that cramps were a bad sign that I wasn't hydrated properly. However, it didn't seem like the water stops were helping me either, as I was already past the point I should have been. Although I did see a spectator with a sign that read, "Worst Parade Ever." It made me laugh for a bit.

This area took forever.....and I mean FOREVER. Between the cramping and the heat, I couldn't even run....we walked a large part of it. I felt terrible, as we had a good pace going, and Becky was looking at a PR. We walked toward the 10 mile sign.

Eventually, near the Dane County Coliseum, we turned around and headed back. I tried staying cool and taking as much ice water as I could. I was bonking. My mind was telling me I was done. If not for Becky pushing me, I doubt I would have run at all during the last 3 miles of the race. I ran in short spurts. Eventually, we saw relief, and towards the end of John Nolen, the Madison Fire Dept was helping to cool the runners off.

We entered the area around the Capitol, where we finally found shade again. I looked at my watch, and we decided that if we could run to the end, that we might be able to get a PR for Becky after all. We charged as hard as my body would allow...maybe even past my comfort point. We finally crossed the finish line in 2:48:48, which was a PR by about a minute for Becky. As soon as we crossed, I doubled over in pain. After taking a minute to collect myself, and refusing a medical offer of assistance, I collected my medal, and got an obligatory finisher's picture.

Overall, this was a great course. The heat, which was beyond the organizer's control was the major factor in how I performed. The organizers were right to cancel the full marathon, and have since decided to move it to the fall, and said they may have the John Nolen Drive stretch near the beginning, which would be a better move. That section is very flat and picturesque, but took a beating from the sun when it got hot.

I still love running at "home". I'll be back.

12:53 Average Mile
322/333 - Age Group
1956/2010 - Males
4149/4393 - Overall

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