Sunday, May 25, 2008

Becoming Ironman: Race Report: Madison Marathon 13.1

The short version: 1:45:30

The longer version:

The race ends at the Alliance Energy Center in Madison, and that's where athlete parking was - shuttle buses then took us a few miles away to the starting line near the Capital. First - it was a day of strange deja vu that started just with the morning transportation; I remembered parking at the Alliance Center, hitching a ride on a big yellow school bus, sitting in the big vinyl green seats, on my way to the Monona Terrace to Become Ironman.

As it is, though, it wasn't the most auspicious way to start the day - my shuttle was late leaving the Alliance Center, and hit every red light on the way there, and as we pulled up and the doors folded open, I watched as the entire field for the half marathon crawled away under the starting banner. And just like that, game was on - I started running immediately from the bus, caught the very back of the mass of 2800, and crossed the timing mats.

I knew my training had prepared me to run fast - faster than I've ever run this distance. I had a solid 2 week taper and a good last week of training going into this race, so I was confident going in. But this is precisely what I'd hoped to avoid at the start - being situated too far back in the field so as to have to run the gauntlet from the get-go, avoiding every moving obstacle as I tried to get past the slower runners. The inclination in that situation is to go out too fast, to sprint past groups and stragglers until I could find my space. A few years ago, I know I would've done just that (and have before...) - assume some sort of panic and disregard all common sense just to create some space, rattling off sub-7:00 miles in the process and burning all kinds of matches that I'd need later in the race. Today - no worries. I first dedicated myself to my strategy for the first 3 miles - comfortable. That's all, just comfortable. Not pushing. Having a spring in my step. Beyond that, just let the miles comes. So I wove around, hopping up onto the sidewalk here, side shuffling there, slowing down without concern when a wall of people just wouldn't let me move, waiting for a gap. I sang along with my iPod. Saw my crew in the first mile and shouted excitements with them. Just enjoyed myself. Let the miles come.

Soon enough the mass became more penetrable, and I was able to move more easily within my comfortable pace. I caught the 2:20 pace group around mile 2, and at mile 3 hit the lap button and had a look at my time - up to that point I'd only given it an occasional glance. I ticked past mile 3 in 23 minutes and change, my average pace so far 7:51/mile. That's about 40 seconds faster than my "comfortable pace" had been for those first 3 miles in training.

So, the first of several in-the-moment decisions was upon me. Am I too juiced up? Am I pushing? Is this sustainable? Will you pay for this your last 5k because you couldn't hold it together for the first 3 miles? But I felt good - my heart rate was only 154bpm. I was comfortable, having fun. I'd mentioned earlier this week that I'd intended to push for this entire race, so I decided it was time to walk the walk (er, run the run?). I committed to keeping my options open, but to ride at a pace no slower than 8:15/mile, but no worries if faster (so long as I was still comfortable) for the next 4 miles, getting me to mile 7.

The course took us around downtown Madison and the surrounding areas - lots of Ironman terrain was covered. It was dark and raining at Ironman, though, and I still don't know this town well enough to have a clue where I was. Still, once in awhile I'd notice something familiar, and a rush of memories - some of them I didn't even know I had - came rushing in. At around mile 4 I had a surprisingly emotional moment when the Team was on the corner cheering me on. Amy and Dakota are visiting family this weekend, so my cousin Erin (CznE) and my aunt and uncle were there in force today. At that moment "Momma I'm Coming Home" came up on the iPod, which intrepid readers will know is a big part of the soundtrack to this video of the Ironman bike course - my favorite part of which is CznE cheering and yelling when she sees me coming in Verona. Anyway, there they all were today, complete in their blue Team t-shirts, and it was a huge flashback. Made me realize - yet again - how blessed I am to have these friends and family supporting me like they do. I was happy to slide over the side of the road and share some high-fives. Such a huge part of the day, of Becoming Ironman, of this lifestyle, to share it with people you love.

I wasn't obsessive about my pace - I'd check my watch from time to time, make a note of if I was consistent or no, and otherwise just tried to stay comfortable. I checked in at mile 7, as planned - my pace for the last 4 miles (since mile 3) was 7:55/mile. Heart rate was at 160. I had caught up to and passed the 2:10 and 2:00 pace groups.

This is just where I wanted to be - comfortable with 10k left to go. I didn't expect to be under 8:00/miles on the day to that point - I had considered sub-8:15 or so would be fantastic. I couldn't have been having a better day.

I committed the next 3 miles to just stay sub 8:00/mile, but to spend as much time as I could around 7:45. I didn't do any math to consider any kind of ultimate finishing time or anything - just stick to the plan and let the miles come. The Team had a solid stretch where they'd just kind of advance a half mile ahead of me or so, and I saw them 3 or 4 times - it was awesome. Meanwhile, I was noting that my watch mileage was slightly behind the course mileage - .4 miles at first, but soon up to .11, .13, .17.

Somewhere around mile 8 or 9 we passed right next to the hospital where Dakota was born. In fact, we turned a corner that Amy and I walked back and forth from as she began labor, trying to get the launch sequence in motion. It was another emotional moment for me - not knowing this town yet, or what's around the next corner, keeps all kinds of surprises in store, I guess. I thumped my fist to my heart and held it up for my daughter. Strange, when raceday so often takes you down a tour of What's Really Important. It's no wonder I was flying all day, smile on my face.

Somewhere in there I ticked past the 1:50 pace group, and that was the first time it occurred to me that I might truly be in obliteration mode. In my secret heart, I had thought a 1:50 finish was probably most likely in the cards. I had told CznE in an email, when she wondered how she should pace me so she'd know what to expect at the race, that I might finish "between 1:45 (very unlikely) and 1:50". At mile 10 we climbed a small helix to go over a bridge over the highway below. Oh Madison and your funny helixes.

So at mile 10, I took complete stock. I'd run the last 3 miles at a pace of 7:53/mile. So, it was no I was running sub-8's in a half marathon. My legs were starting to show some fatigue - but with 5k left, I wasn't letting up. I planned to push the next 3 miles, mile by mile - to mile 11, I planned to stay right around 8:00/mile. I ran it in 7:54. Mile 12 now, and I wanted to push to 7:45/mile. I ran it in 7:46. The last mile, then, was just whatever I had left - and that's when the wall approached.

About .25 miles in, my legs started to churn molasses. My form, I noticed, was crap. I wasn't smiling anymore, didn't have that spring in my step like I had all day. I repeated the mantra I've been saying to myself for the last few weeks, to success - There is no spoon. (More on that later, an entire post devoted to it...) There is no spoon...there is no spoon...there is no spoon... I picked myself back up, concentrating on form and leg turnover. I pumped my arms. I didn't have any kind of final sprint in me, but I wanted to finish strong, and consistent with the day. Final mile: 7:59.

As usual, the Garmin says I went further than the race indicated - 13.38 miles in 1:45:30. (Hey, what's the deal with race-course measurements? Seriously, how hard can this be? We have GPS, after all. I propose you measure the course 3 times, using GPS, and take the average of the 3 and make that the official distance. Thanks.) At that mileage, my average on the day was a 7:53/mile pace. That's absurd. Totally ridiculous for somebody like me. I could not be more satisfied with the race, or with executing what I knew my training had prepared me for.

Officially, I went 13.1 miles in 1:45:30, for an overall pace of 8:03/mile. That's the one that counts, so there you go...though it's a curiosity how I don't go over 8:00/mile all day, but average above it. Oh well. 68/199 in my age group, 371/1238 of all males. 478 of all 2866 finishers. (Incidentally, there were 1238 male finishers of the 13.1...and 1625 female finishers! Wow!)

I caught up with The Team after a few minutes of cooling-down and getting changed. Here we are celebrating the strong day.

They have this crazy thing here called Brat Fest, which is what it sounds like, only with carnival rides. And dancing people on stages. And a huge semi, the trailer on which folds up to reveal, as claimed on the side of the truck, "The Biggest Grill Ever. Period." So. Anyway, me and CznE caught up with Chief of Stuff and Erin, who ran the 13.1 as well, and hit up some Brats (best recovery food ever. Period.) before heading back out onto the course to cheer on Krista, who rocked the full marathon. It was a great day of running and cheering on friends - with brats and beer on the side. Life is good.

So - mission accomplished, and I have more thoughts on that in general to share in the next few days. For now - this race, and the objective to Go Faster, and the very satisfactory performance on the day, does not live in a vacuum. The point of this race was to establish some kind of reasonable expectation of what's possible after 56 miles on the bike. Ideally, I could finish the half marathon in a 70.3 in 2 hours - a 9:00/mile pace. Training on that starts seriously right away, with all the adjustments to be discovered for nutrition, fatigue (mental and physical), and the other challenges inherent in a 70.3. I'm starting to develop an overall perspective for Racine, which I'm sure will be ongoing and you'll be privy to as my training gets dialed in for some kind of specific performance. Stay tuned.

This race was a significant development in Becoming Ironman again - the speed-specific training and the development of that increased speed...these are numbers that were truly alien to me during training for Ironman One. To execute it on race day - something I also struggled with the first time around - is something I'm pleased about. Even to take a bold and ambitious statement - to take my old PR at this distance of 1:58 and "obliterate" it, and then be able to go out there and do that by 13 minutes...there's just a lot here that I can deposit in the proverbial bank. It occurs to me that these statements might seem self congratulatory when I don't mean them to be - I only mean that from an objective perspective on fitness, goal-setting, and the pursuit of the bigger picture, I'm very encouraged and excited at what I'm uncovering about myself.

Thanks for all the love this week everybody - I (deeply) appreciate your notes of encouragement when I (finally!) went sub-7, as well as your wishes for best of luck at today's race. Means a lot.

More to come!


marathon2tri said...

Simply awesome!! Congrats on STOMPING, SMASHING, and otherwise OBLITERATING your old time. For me this is what it is all about; finding out what you can do. No need to feel guilty about giving youself well deserved congratualations.

Now onto the next challenge, which I share with you (having run my last half mary in 1:49 and then two months later at a 70.3 crawling through the run in 2:20). Onward!

Team Brazo said...

Awesome job -- I knew you'd blow it away and you did. What a great feeling doing the planning, putting in the time, and then sticking with the plan and getting it DONE!

I agree on the help toward a 1/2 IM -- meaning, after running my 1/2 marathon a few weeks back, I now know where I can be on fresh legs -- so a slight adjustment will allow me to finish strong.

Great Job!!

TriSaraTops said...



Funny how babies sort of make every mile count, huh?

So excited for you--got a good feeling for us both to go sub-2 in our halves! YAHOOOOOOOOOOO for you--way to kick ass!!!!

Collin said...

Nice race report, and I had to laugh about you hitting the course as you exited the bus. We got off our bus only 10 minutes before the start of the full marathon and I thought that was bad! I guess they need to do some better planning with the fields growing so much for these races.

Runnin-from-the-Law said...

Congrats! What a fabulous time! Very fun to read your race report.

Alili said...

WOOHOO! Fantastic race! You ran smart and you CRUSHED it! Congratulations out there!

Steph Bachman said...

WHOOOT!!! Way to go, Xt4. Awesome race.

You deserve some self-congratulating and other-congratulating. You made a plan, prepared well and executed in stellar fashion (especially not getting carried away in the beginning while dodging the world). It's not hubris, it's satisfaction with a task well-done.

I'll bet your extra mileage came from the dodging of the other racers. All of that zigging and zagging had to add up.

Pharmie said...

Congrats on a SUPER fast race!! Wow, you and Sara are sure building some expectations on PRs this year :)

Spandex King said...

Great race! I had 13.3 on my garmin as well.

Steve Stenzel said...

Nice job!! Great run and great pace! How can you NOT obsess about your pace?!? I'm always checking my watch! Way to go!!

Anonymous said...

Way to go, babe! Dakota and I talked about your race during her morning bottle. I said, "Daddy's racing today. We have to send him good thoughts." She grinned and reached up to touch my face. We are sure sad that we missed your record breaker, but we know that more will follow. As always, I am proud of your determination. The way that you make goals and always stick to them is an inspiration for our daughter. The way that you know What Is Really Important is an inspiration to me.