Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Wausau Half-Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 12th Edition 
89 miles run and 6850 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Wausau Half-Marathon
Place: Wausau, WI
Miles from home: 1346
Weather: 65 degrees; cloudy; 100% humidity

When I saw that the weather for this race was going to be in the mid-60s and cloudy I had second thoughts about running the half-marathon. Having not seen temperatures that low for a race since this past winter, the marathon seemed like a good option. However, by the time race day rolled around and given the humidity at the start was 100%, I am happy to say I stuck with the right race distance. (I have recently been told by someone that "dew point" is the only number that matters but considering virtually no one I know would understand what the dew point is, I will continue to stick with a combination of temperature and humidity in my race recaps.)

It is difficult to deal with race results which don't go the way you want it to go. Yet, as a running coach myself, I know that is the key to getting back on the horse. In fact, in the 48 hours around my own race, two of my athletes suffered disappointing finishes after training that showed they would do much better. All we can do is examine the evidence around us, sift through the ashes and attempt to be faster next time.

For the past month or so, I have been running on the treadmill almost exclusively. Tired of trying to clock miles in what is already the third hottest year in Austin history, I resigned myself to running indoors. I found it far more palatable than I expected, mostly because it was nice to be able to do a double-digit run and just be sweaty at the end - not sweaty and ready to die. By hopping on the conveyor belt, I twice ran the longest run I had ever run on a treadmill. It isn't far (10 and then 11 miles) but more than enough to get into good half-marathon shape.

The packet pickup for this quaint but well-organized race in Wausau, Wisconsin was a little bit
dampened by a pretty steady rain. However, more than a few people brightened up my day as I did a book signing and talked to the locals. One rather nice fan who told me he signed up specifically because I was running the race in his new town (hear that race directors?  I bring you money.) was beyond flattering. The need to wear a jacket while under the large outdoor tent was a feeling I haven't had in months. I loved it.

Race Morning:

With a hotel just a hop skip and a trot way from Marathon Park where the race began and ended, I was able to get a good sleep in. The race takes place in Marathon County and this park is just an absolute gem in what is a truly lovely town. With an amphitheater, a child's train, a splash pad, and clusters of trees that campers from all over come and spend the night it in, it truly was an ideal place to begin our race. Getting to the start just minutes before the race began, I saw a few runners I had met the day before, even though I normally walk around with blinders on when race morning draws nigh. People asked me what I was hoping to run and I truly had no idea. I said I could run a 1:25 and not be too surprised or I could run a 1:35 and still not be surprised. The humidity was going to play a huge factor for me but I thought I might be able to power through. My goal was right at 1:30.

A quick countdown to the start and away we went.

First Three Miles:

Being right at the front of the starting line felt nice and I see why people who don't belong there sidle up to it all the time. Nevertheless, within about 15 yards of running, I was in third place. The leader shot out in front. My intuition told me he wouldn't stay out there for very long.  A shirtless fella soon followed him and he looked more seasoned. (I would later learn he was the previous year's second place overall runner.) A few yards later, and before we left Marathon Park, a yellow-shirted chap passed me. Now I was in fourth.

We climbed a small hill and then made a right and ran down a nice little decline towards the center of town. Crossing the Wisconsin River and Big Bull Falls Park we approached the first mile with a cloudy sky and quiet streets making us all feel quite as if the town was all ours. Right then the ladies' overall leader passed me followed by two pacers for the 1:30 group. I kinda giggled as it was quite clear that there weren't many who would be needing that pacer today. Then my giggling stopped when I realized it felt like I was running a 6:20 mile and instead it was a 6:54. I began hoping the mile markers would be off.

A nice young fella I had met the day before, Pluto, exchanged some words with me and followed the pace group. I was beginning to feel like this might not be my day. The next mile, which was all but flat and only produced me another 6:55 mile (more or less) confirmed my suspicions. Alas, I had to play out the string.

We went through some sleepy neighborhoods whose occupants definitely were not up yet to cheer us on but a few spectators had appeared here and there. A little bump right before mile three netted me a 7:19 mile and I think I audibly sighed. Most of the runners who had passed me were still within 30 seconds of running but might as well have been forever away. The shirtless runner had taken the lead and the young buck who started out in front was falling back. Now it was time for the climb.

To the Turn Around:

A rather large hill cresting at mile four loomed in front of me. I wanted to simply do what I could to not make this an embarrassment of a mile, so I pulled out all the stops and knowledge I have of running uphill. With the fourth mile marker right at the crest of the hill and an identical 7:19 to boot to go along with it, I was more than pleased.

Sliding down the backside of the hill I was beginning to catch up to some of the runners in front of me. Any chance of winning this race was gone but a top three finish still existed.  Then I felt my shoelace coming untied. Oh, come on, really? Is this my first race ever?!  I had double knotted the shoelaces but apparently my superhuman sweating skill had worked its way down to my feet and moistened the knots. As I stopped to tie it another shirtless runner passed me. Tying as quickly as possible, I began to give this man chase and use him as a wagon to pull me along to catch the others in front of us.

We turned onto Highway K (I love Wisconsin's use of the alphabet for highway demarcation) and I knew it was a simple mile from the turn to the turnaround. I finally started to feel OK. The next mile was one of the fastest of the day. Then I began to catch in on the runners between me and the second shirtless runner (who was catching and passing people as well). I slapped hands with the leader on his way back, and then the next few people came back at me before too long as well. I was beginning to feel some confidence and swung around the turn-around point.

To Mile Nine:

As I began my trek back I felt so much better. I felt faster. I felt stronger. I felt awake and ready to take down some competitors. My first mile back was an excellent 7:05 (given what I had just run in the previous six, I will call that excellent) but that's where the excellence ended. The next mile, approaching the big hill again, felt wonderful as I cheered on virtually every other runner heading out the same was I had just come. I was picking up distance from those in front of me but it was quite clear we were all slowing. I just happened to be slowing slower than the rest. I was the fastest slower-downer.

Right before the top of the hill I passed the young buck who shot out early. Then a few yards later when the lead woman hopped into the bushes for a second, I passed here as well. Next up was the yellow-shirted fella from the beginning and as we ran down the other side of the hill, I saw I was catching him. One of the nice things about running behind runners over a series of varying terrains is that if you pay attention well enough, you can learn their strengths. I knew the woman was excellent at flats. The yellow-shorted guy was great on uphills. And I could toast them both on downs.

I approached the ninth mile and remembered the race director told me that at mile nine, if you want to make a move, this was the place. Unfortunately, a slower mile than expected sort of took the wind out of my sails and I fell further back. Drats.

Heading Home:

On this flat mile, true to form, the women's leader passed me. She offered a urging but polite "Come on, let's go" and man I wish I could have responded. I just couldn't speed up. I didn't feel tired per se. I felt I had the energy to go but the legs wouldn't respond.

I had driven parts of the course the day prior to just get a feel for what were some moderately rolling hills. I knew the return trip home was not a simple out and back meaning we would not be retracing out steps.

As we went down a nice little hill to pass over the Wisconsin River again, I closed the gap on the runners in front of me. Again, felt like I was flying and my watch told me differently. As we did a couple of little quick turns through a neighborhood, I was soon on the heels of the women's leader once again. Seeing a PortaPotty, she jumped in.  I felt for sure that she was not feeling that great today (and speaking to her afterward confirmed that) which made passing her bittersweet. I have zero deference or compassion for women runners when we are racing because I see them as competitors that need no "mmlady-ing". But you never want to best someone who is not having a good day.  This point after mile eleven was the last time I would see her.  Now I began focusing on yellow shirt guy (hereinafter YSG).

Up a short but steep soul-crushing rise we ran and I grabbed a glass of energy drink. A long straightaway appeared in front of me. I watched YSG hop up onto the sidewalk and for some reason that seemed like an act of a tired runner. I began to speed up.

The course map had us running a straight line until one street but a few blocks before it we were turned by a course marshal. I assumed it was to avoid an intersection and dutifully complied.  However, as I ran the tangent, YSG stuck to the sidewalk and I easily made up a few yards on him. Cruising down this street I was trying to decide when to make my move. I knew I did not have much in the tank so when I did pass him it had to be decisive. I absolutely love racing like this. Some random race in Wisconsin. Two guys running way slower than they are able to. Battling for a meaningless place with no prize money.

We approached the turn ahead which would be the last before we re-entered the park. There was an aid station right on the corner and I was ready to grab one last drink. I didn't think YSG was going to grab a drink and I was right on his heels. Suddenly he reached out and snagged a cup. It was too late for me to grab one myself and I had a decision to make. I ran wide on his outside shoulder and utilized the fact that he was looking back to see if anyone was behind him to catch him by surprise. I immediately thought of Roger Bannister passing John Landy in the same way many years ago. I wasn't quite ready to pass him with well over a half of a mile left but the decision was made for me. It was a full three steps before he realized I was in front of him.

We went up the street with one last very short but cruel hill. I turned into the park and used my
peripherals to see where he was. Just a quarter of a mile left and I felt like my lead was safe. I cut the tangent as close as possible between a winding road in the park and knew I had about one minute of effort left. Then I heard his footsteps. I cut behind a dumpster in a narrow space hoping to hold YSG on his final charge. However, even though he had to run wide, he had more in him. He passed me as we entered the final .1 of a mile in the chutes of Marathon Park and simply wanted it more than I did. I slowed to a trot, my body spent.

He finished sixth overall 12 seconds ahead of my 1:36:13 which is an exact tie with the last half-marathon I did in January which, wait for it, was 65 degrees and 100% humidity. That means it was my 88th slowest half-marathon ever (out of 102) which should go to show you how bad of a day I had. One more man slipped in behind me and the women's leader and then the next two finishers were female as well. That's a strong showing by the ladies on a tough day.

After the race I hung around and signed books for a while. I saw people who I talked to the day before finishing their first races, I witnessed police officers running in full gear to commemorate a fallen comrade, and so many other examples of good humanity and people pushing their boundaries.

I used to believe that all I need to know about someone was whether they ran. I realize now in today's climate that I was naive and foolish to think that way. Nevertheless, in a race, or while running, I think that there is something which brings out the absolute best in everyone. If only more of us ran more often with more people, perhaps things would be a bit better.

After the race, heading back to the airport in Minneapolis, I acted on a tip from a local to check out a geographical anomaly nearby. The 45 x 90 Geographical Marker (learn more about it here) was just a few miles out of my way heading back and I absolutely had to make a visit. I was not disappointed and the geek in me gladly laid down next to this point and grabbed a selfie. Since the only one of the 45x90 spots on land is in the middle of desolate region of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China near the Mongolian border, let's just say this one is a bit easier to get to.

And stay tuned because I may have reason why you runners especially might want to visit it in a year or so!

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