Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Madison Half Marathon Recap - My 100th Half-Marathon

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 14th Edition 
164.8 miles run; 4750m swam in 2017 races
Race: Madison Half Marathon
Place: Madison, WI
Miles from home: 1194
Weather: High 30s-Low 40s; cloudy

Races don't care about your milestones. I have learned this fact time and time again. Want to run a PR on your birthday? Race don't care. How about something special for your 50th marathon? Race still don't care. In fact, one way to almost assure you will not have a good race is to attach special meaning to it before it occurs.

OK, races aren't sentient and they can't affect outcomes. My point is that racing is hard. You rarely have the day you want on race day period and trying to sync it up with a certain date makes it even less likely to make you happy. So, when I headed into the Madison Half Marathon, as my 100th half-marathon ever, I was trying not to get excited. Couple this with the fact that it was first road race since being assaulted and having my face and thumb fractured (for those curious, 3.5 months after this happened, charges against the guys they had in their custody immediately still have not been filed) and I was both nervous and wary.

I would also be carrying a 3'x5' flag with me the whole way.

A few years ago I ran with the flag on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in Chicago. Then I decided I would like to do so on Veteran's Day to honor all vets, especially my brother and both grandfathers who served. I didn't want to run with it too often as I never wanted it to be too "showy." And showing that no matter what your intentions are, someone is going to be offended anyway, we have the lovely Daniel Alan Mabie from Jupiter Florida who decided to chime in on twitter after I ran this race with the following lovely comments. (This is a reminder that if you want to do something - just go right ahead and do it. Someone is always going to be an ass.)

Regardless, I knew that this race was going to be a challenge. My thumb was hardly fully prepared to hold that flag for the entirety of the race, I wasn't in the shape I would like to be to race, and blah blah blah. But it was my 100th lifetime half-marathon and I was running it in Dane County.  Doesn't get much more fun than that.

Race Morning:

After an very nice expo wherein I did a book signing and met a plethora of extremely pleasant new running friends, saw old ones, and mixed and mingled, I was really happy to be racing. The temperature at one time showed it might be in the 20s which made pleased beyond my ability to tell you. After a year of living in Austin's heat, and having over two plus years of races where the weather was always warmer than ideal, this seemed wonderful. Even when race day broke at 35 degrees, warmer than I wanted, I was still happy. I even debated the necessity for gloves and hat but figured I would err on the side of caution. Perhaps Texas had made me weak in the cold.

First 3 Miles:

I moved to the front of the corral before the start as I wanted to get to the side out of everyone's way.  In order to make sure the flag wouldn't hit anyone in the face, I put myself up a little further than I might have normally stood. Then again, I almost always end up passing dozens of people who line themseves up incorrectly, so sixes. My goal was to get under 1:30 and maybe even challenge for the time I ran at that Chicago race above (1:27:47 and my fastest ever with the flag.) I knew this course had a few rolling hills early and one that might be a toughie later in the race but who knows what the day would hold.

The countdown ended and we were off. With the beautiful capitol building in the background we make a couple of quick turns in the first mile including our first small climb just a block into the race. Well, that's one way to start.

Even though scores of people seemed to be passing me I felt like I was running fairly hard. Normally I can tell what my pace is and ignore others but being I am not in my typical shape and was undoubtedly slowed by carrying the flapping flag (let alone the non-use of one of my arms which really throws you off), I couldn't tell my pace. Hitting the first mile around 6:30 made me feel really good. But that is just the first mile. We made a few turns and soon were on Gorham Street which I knew we followed for a few miles at least. This game me a chance to settle into a pace, find the right grip for the flag, and get ready for the rest of the day.

My second mile was a bit slower, as expected but my average was still a 6:44 pace. A few runners had recognized me from the expo (no small feet since my hat covered my ears- my most prominent feature) and all wished me luck and I wished them as well. The weather hadn't warmed at all but I was already quite sweaty. There was a touch of a headwind which I only could really tell as he flag was standing straight back. Other than that, this was the best race weather I had run in for years. I was rather ecstatic.

The third mile would give me a good assessment of how the day was going as the first two were abut feeling out the race. As that third mile approached, I looked at my watch and saw it wasn't running.  Crap. I had hit the wrong button.

I was wearing a new Timex GPS watch whose buttons were configured slightly different than a watch I had worn previously.  Out of habit, instead of hitting the lap button. I had paused the watch. When I went to start it again I stopped it completely. Total user error here. Now I had to wait for it to save, start it up again, and do this all while wearing gloves and carrying a flag. As a result, had no idea what my overall time was as I ran. I just had to run each mile as its own little race and get them all under 6:52.

To Mile 6:

A little perturbed I had messed up my watch, I now was simply trying to get back into rhythm.  I had settled into a spot amongst runners who I would more or less be running with the entirety of rest of the race. Well, they would pull ahead of me on the flats and I would catch up to them on an uphill and then scream down them on a downhill. Lather, rinse, repeat. There is something about flat running that just doesn't work well with me. But give me a grade, especially a down one, and it is like we are running different races.

There was a rather sparse crowd out cheering us on and I felt for the marathoners. Usually if the half-marathon crowd is light the marathon crowd is worse. But as the marathon course utilized different parts of the city and wasn't just the half marathon could plus a longer loop somewhere, it is entirely possible they have fans the whole way as well.

Around the fifth mile my hand started to get a little numb. I was curious when holding the flapping flag would get to me and this is where it happened. I switched it over to my left hand but without even thinking switched it back to my right hand a few hundred yards later.  Regardless, as I entered Warner Park, I was ticking away 6:45 miles and feeling great. Not counting the one mile I wasn't sure of my time, I was pushing a 1:28 marathon.

To Mile 10: 

The miles from 7-10 (and I think 19-22 for the marathoners) were indeed the toughest. There was an odd little dogleg that we ran which went straight up a hill, turned around a cone, and then straight down. Then there were the two hills of Maple Bluff which undoubtedly made many a runner swear.

After continuing to play cat and mouse with a few runners over the hills, the toughest challenge for most runners began here in the Bluff. First was a tougher hill which curved out of sight.  Then after a nice downhill to get some of your time back, there was the much higher and steeper hill ending at mile nine. And it was a bear. Fortunately, when I finally crested it, I knew we had just another mile to go before we crossed through Burrows Park and had a long straightaway home.

I passed a few runners in this section and had a few runners pass me. It is always interesting to me how runners will plan their strategy. There is no real right or wrong way but some are front runners who just try and hold on and others who need some time to warm up before finishing strong.

To the Finish:

I took some time during this final straightaway to just focus on how happy I was to have finished 100 half-marathons. When I ran my 100th marathon in 2009, I had only run 14 half-marathons. My life began to become more involved with the running world around that time as an occupation which made me focus more on half marathons, primarily because it was far easier to work two long days of an expo and then run 13.1 miles rather than 26.2. I often used halfs as hard training runs to prepare me for a whole litany of different races and distances. There is something about the pace and length of a half-marathon that lends itself to be a multi-use training race. Thinking about this made the pavement fly under my feet and the few little bumps of hills we had sailed on by.

On the 11th and 12th miles, I was excited that both were well under the 6:52 average I needed. I had lost nearly half a minute on the big hills in Maple Bluff but figured I would have enough cushion to get under 1:30. However, as the final mile stretched on, I knew something was askew. From the course map I knew we had to run past the finish before turning around and coming back to it.  Looking at the real estate ahead of me and the time left needed to cover it told me that there was no way I was getting under 1:30. Throw in the exceedingly cruel long hill at mile 12.5, a sharp downhill followed by a handful of right angle turns, and one final uphill, and this was a tough finish.

When I conquered the last hill there was a solid crowd waiting to cheer runners to the finish.  I lifted the flag as high as I could and pushed it hard. I could see the clock ahead echoed what I knew from earlier - the course had to be long.  I don't say that lightly and I don't just rely on what my "GPS said." But it does appear the course as a good quarter of a mile long. Oh well. I ran a 1:32:13 for my 100th lifetime marathon and just missed cracking the top 100. Runners came out to run today, that is for sure. I haven't finished that far back in a half-marathon since Miami in 2016. On a curse no one would describe as easy, there were some stellar times.

Organization-wise the event was well-run. There was a surprisingly large amount of prize money for an event that while good-sized was hardly huge (roughly 1000 finishers this year.) Starting and finishing in the same place is always a plus for logistics and there was ample free parking near both. The t-shirt was a nice long-sleeved cotton blend that was uber soft and a solid medal to boot. There is a corner taken out of the medal which lends me to believe that if you get four they form some sort of design in the center. (I failed to ask.)

I literally only took one drink of water the entire race so I cannot comment on the aid stations very much. I know they were plentiful and the sip I had was cold but it was 34 degrees- it would have been shocking if it wasn't! All in all Madison is a lovely city. This is a low-key but still well-put together marathon that deserves to be on your list. With its date in November (it used to be in May but they said no on that a few years ago) and location in Wisconsin, chances are no matter how much race temps keep climbing later in the year, weather will be good for fast times.

For me, this was a nice race to get #100. I have run in 28 states and once into Canada for my half-marathons. I have paced friends, run charity events, and even made a short movie. I have averaged a 1:30:30 for all 100 races with my 3rd fastest happening just last year.  (In other words, I know I still have a half-marathon PR in me and I think it will be a doozy when I get it!)  I have plenty of more stats to look at and have fun with but now I have 100 marathons and 100 half marathons under my belt. I guess 100 ultras is next.


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