After attending my son’s football game, we made the trek to Milwaukee for packet pick up for my fourteenth marathon. This would be my third Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee. I have also spectated the race twice. The race starts north of Milwaukee in Grafton and runners complete the 26.2 mile trek to downtown Milwaukee.
Packet pick up was at the Westin downtown this year, which complicated things a bit. I’m not sure if there was free parking this year, but we eventually found a parking ramp – that charged $9 for the first hour. Once we got out of the car, we noticed that our little one had wet through her clothes. We got inside and finally found a restroom and packet pick up inside of the swanky hotel. I couldn’t locate a changing table, so I changed her on the floor. Then I realized that we switched diaper bags and I didn’t have any extra pants for. I remembered every single item I could possibly need for race day, but forgot a spare pair of pants for my kid. Nice, mom. So, she attended the expo in her diaper. Maybe folks were amazed by her new light-up sneakers and didn’t notice? Restrooms were also out of toilet paper (runners!). Expo was small and a little chaotic this year. I picked up my bib and they informed me that they were out of my size shirt that I registered for. I’m assuming that they let other women switch sizes and ran out of mediums. So, they would be mailing it to me. I was in a little bit of a bad mood about our expo experience, but then had to remind myself that none of this was a big deal. I was feeling really good about my training and my weightloss and felt like I was going to have a good race on Sunday morning. Regardless of all of the dumb mishaps. Until we tried to exit the parking ramp and pay our $9 and couldn’t get out. Yeah, that happened, too.
After that, we headed north to Grafton, where we would be staying. We find this to be the best option and typically stay at Comfort Inn & Suites, which is a short jaunt to the startline at Grafton High School. When I haven’t had spectators or kids with me, we’ve also stayed at the host hotel in downtown Milwaukee and taken the morning shuttle up to Grafton, where they drop everyone off at the startline. Staying in Grafton would allow my husband and daughter to see me along the route.
We checked into our hotel and ordered delicious pepperoni and green olive pizza from the same place the year prior. I stuffed myself and enjoyed every bite. I’ve been doing great on tracking my food and accomplishing my weightloss this year. But, I don’t believe you should cut certain foods out of your life if you really enjoy them. Everything in moderation.
I had a lot of anxiety about sleeping with our toddler in the hotel room. She sleeps amazing at home, but getting her to sleep in a hotel room is no easy chore. She’s not a cuddler and will not sleep with us either. Instead of a king bed, we had two fulls and hubby and I opted to sleep separately, which we both struggle with. We turned on the sound machine and shut out the lights shortly after 8pm. Soon our daughter asked to go to bed and she was out momentarily. Not a peep. Sweet …
I laid there for about an hour, drifting in and out of sleep. I woke up about every hour, checking the clock. I typically rise between 4:30-5:30 daily and finally got out of bed when the clock hit 4:00. My alarm was set for 5:15, but I decided to scroll Facebook, use the bathroom several times (dang nerves) and lay around in bed. I got up and made some coffee and got dressed and put my makeup on. I packed my own breakfast and opted not to pack my toaster. Continental breakfast wasn’t open, but I took my english muffins downstairs and toasted them and ate breakfast in the room: two light english muffins, peanut butter, Chobani yogurt, one cup of coffee with sugar-free creamer. Hubby loaded up the van, while we let our little one sleep. I frantically used the bathroom a few more times and made sure I had everything I needed.
My plan was to leave the hotel at 6:30 for the 7:30 start. We would let her sleep, I would walk the fifteen minutes to the startline and they would see me around mile five. I headed out at 6:30 and wore an old race shirt to keep me warm on my walk. I got to Grafton High School by 6:45 and made my way inside to the sea of runners sprawled across the floor. I sat down and had a banana and a sleeve of Clif Shot Blocks. I typically have trouble eating and chewing before a race. This morning, I was chowing down and eating fine. I don’t think I was nervous this time – just excited – and confident. I ran into someone I knew, chatted with her a bit, and then headed back outside to the bathrooms. I stood in the line (always the wrong line!) for quite a while and then got right back in another line. This is what I do! There were ten minutes to start time. I used the bathroom again finally and then heard them say that there were three minutes until the gun.
I walked to the startline and found the 4:00 pace group, and seeded myself in front of them. With a minute to go, the announcer said that the weather conditions were perfect and that if you were going to PR today, this would be it. My husband had also been telling me to push my limits – but I was hesitant. Running is so much more than running to me – it’s all about the experience. I don’t like feeling totally uncomfortable, having negative energy about my run and get more out of my races than my finishing time. But, when I got to the startline, I decided that I was going to go for it. My marathon PR was 4:02 from the same event in 2010. I haven’t even come close to reaching that time in the past seven years. I typically finish 4:05-4:10. I was now hoping to PR, and achieving my running dream of going sub-four hours would be absolutely amazing. If I couldn’t do it on this perfect day and super-flat course, when would I accomplish it? A 3:59 would be 9:07 min/mile pace.
We headed out promptly at 7:30 and I worked on getting into my groove for the next mile or two, as we headed out through neighborhoods and then into the country. This event has amazing crowd support along the route. I love it. My watch was consistently clocking around 8:00-8:30 min/miles. Something that was unheard of for me. I spend so much time coaching others to achieve their goals, that I honestly don’t get to push myself to my full potential very often – especially for several hours. I felt great with the pace and was super pumped. But would I regret it in another hour, two hours or worse … three? I just decided to go with it. If I got too uncomfortable, I would slow down … or worse, walk.
At mile five, I knew that I would be seeing my family. I turned down my tunes and shouted out to them and sped up a bit as we pushed toward the 10K point – our first timing mat. The timing mats pushed me to push my pace and pick things up. This first one clocked in at 53:24.
We headed towards Concordia University and the crowd support was amazing. Last year when I ran the race, it was really cold and raining. So crowd support was sparse. This year, it was really moving to see and hear so many spectators cheering for their friends and family. Strangers were calling out my name after reading it from my bib and gave me an extra boost. A couple people even said “Go Running Diva Mom”, which shocked me a bit. It was just what I needed to keep up the pace and propel myself forward. Towards my goals. You also got a nice glimpse of Lake Michigan at Concordia.
I was taking gels every five miles, per my plan. Since I consumed so many calories at breakfast, that by mile 10 my stomach was already starting to feel a little off. But, I decided to stick to my plan and sip on each gel with water over the course of a mile. I was going to need calories and energy if I was going to follow through with this. I had Honey Stinger gels at miles five, ten, fifteen and twenty (480 calories). I brought an extra, but didn’t need it. I also took a sports drink and water at each aid station – which was about every two miles. I also kept refilling my water bottle (twice) along the way. I don’t run water stations, so this can be quite the balancing act. I also went through 2/3 a pack of sugar-free gum during the race.
I saw a couple runners from Sun Prairie during the course and it was nice to see familiar faces. I saw my husband again at mile ten. I still had a nice spring in my step. My little one sat nicely in the stroller and perked up each time I ran past and called her name. Hubby gave me a high five. He always told me I looked strong or great. Usually, I feel like people just say that to motivate you. But this time I really believed it. I was feeling strong.
I hit the half marathon point at 1:53:36, which is an amazing single half marathon time for me in recent years. I would’ve been very happy with that time if the finish time had been overhead. But, I had to keep going and run another thirteen miles. I saw more familiar faces around mile fourteen. And then I saw my little family again around mile fifteen. It was warming up a bit, but the breeze had picked up as we headed south – a head wind which we would have on and off until the finish. I was really happy I opted for the tank top. I felt comfortable. I was slowing down a bit, but still clocking in the upper 8’s for each mile. The course was heading towards more upscale neighborhoods and along treelines. We were pretty close to the lake but you couldn’t see it.
I absolutely hate miles fourteen through nineteen of a marathon. Time seems to slow down and gets lost. I kind of get in a mental funk, unless there is a lot going on. I struggled a little here, slowed down a little bit more (a couple of my miles coming in the low 9’s), but kept moving forward. I love hitting mile twenty. Crowd support was great at mile nineteen, which pushed me towards the time clock at mile twenty, where I knew my family would be waiting for me again. I looked down at my watch and it read 2:55:13. I was freaking going to do it! I was going to PR – AND go sub four hours. But how far below could I go, knowing I was already slowing down? I saw my family and just started sobbing. I couldn’t hold it together anymore. The emotional experience of achieving what you think is impossible for yourself is really surreal.
I pushed forward. Earlier in the race, I was running back and forth with about ten of the same women. Now, I seemed to be jockeying for position with some men. Some runners were now walking, sitting on curbs or stretching out cramps. I hit the mile 21 marker and a man three runners in front of me went down. Not just down to a knee to get a breather … he was laying on his back, blank stare and his eyes were rolling in the back of his head. There was not an aid station close by, just spectators up ahead. Several us slowed down or stopped and time just stopped. We froze as one guys was quickly down on the ground holding him. It was the scariest thing I have witnessed on a race course. The runner was talking to him and asking questions and he wasn’t responding. Another runner stopped and I mentioned to someone else that I would run ahead and get one. A bystander called 911 as I turned around and kept running. I flagged down a volunteer and then saw a police vehicle driving towards the pack I was running with. I flagged him down and pointed a few yards back where the runner was down. My whole body was in shock from what I just witnessed, my stomach turned and a shock literally went through my body. A lot of me felt guilty for running ahead to get someone. But the professionals were on their way. I soon heard an ambulance headed in our direction. I couldn’t stop thinking about this man and looked at every spectator for the next five miles, wondering if it was his family or friends waiting for him to pass by.
After that, my pace slowed to 9:30-9:40 during the final miles. I mentally had difficulty shaking it, but kept pushing forward. I tried to use the energy I had to encourage others. There were three men during my final two miles that were walking separately. I tapped them each on the shoulder and encouraged them to join me and “keep going”. They did and that felt great. But of course each of them passed me during the final stretch of our journey. Dudes!
I never saw pacers during the race, which usually are super deflating to me. But my pace must have been pretty consistently paced, because my husband said one pace group was always in front me and the other behind me. He also saw the same 10-12 runners ahead of me each time, so he knew I would be arriving soon. That’s something I haven’t always mastered, so I felt good about that.
The last two miles of this race seem long, because the downhill along the lake is long and you can see the finish line. I always feel like I’m almost there, but not quite. We made our final turns into the park and crowd support was awesome. I vaguely saw my family to my right as my tunes were cranked, crowds were loud and my focus was intense at this point. My watch read 3:53 and some change and I really wanted to see if I could crank it on the final stretch and go sub 3:54. I crossed the crowded finish line and my watch said 3:54:01, but my chip time actually read 3:53:59 which felt absolutely amazing.
I got some goodies and a finisher’s photo after stopping along a fence to breath deeply and collect myself and my thoughts for a few minutes. I was feeling nauseous after stopping and also wanted to take the whole experience in. Savor it. The nausea passed and I soon reunited with my family. I lit up when I saw them. I smiled. He smiled. She smiled. I collapsed in my husband’s arms and just sobbed. It was truly remarkable. And I did it. Me. This non-runner become runner for fun and weightloss crossed another big item off of her running bucket list – actually two items.
Don’t ever doubt yourself. Don’t limit yourself. Every training run and every finishing time serves it’s purpose. The good the bad — and everything in between. Some are good reminders. Some are good lessons. Some are social outlets. Some are therapy. Some runs train your body to push yourself – faster or further. Some training runs will tell your mind to push more. Some are amazing and wonderful. That’s why I love this sport so much. It’s so much more than running. You learn so much about your physical and mental capabilities – it’s unreal. If someone had told me that I’d one day run a marathon, I’d think you were nuts. If someone had told me that I’d do fourteen and have five dozen half marathons under my belt, I’d have looked at you sideways. I didn’t believe in myself or know what I was capable of. Now I do. I am capable of anything.
Marathon #14 is now in the books. And #15 will follow in Milwaukee in two weeks. This one will be hard to top.
Chip time: 3:53:59 Overall pace: 8:55 min/mile 554/2,292 overall 171/1,088 females 36/187 F 35-39
10K: 53:24 Half Marathon: 1:53:36 Mile 20: 2:55:13
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