Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Marathon report.

Ok, so I finally have enough time and energy to do a half way decent Milwaukee Marathon report. Its been just over two weeks since the race, so I've had time to recover and reflect a bit, it seems longer than two weeks! So, where to start...

I think maybe a good place to start would be to remember a few random thoughts I had while running the marathon. I remember thinking several things, and coming to the following conclusions:

1) You will inevitably have to make a pee stop during a marathon, this you cannot avoid.
2) I love running a race with a pace group!
3) I'm glad I carried my Nathan hand pack/bottle the entire race.
4) I know I can run a marathon, and finish it (now I know this much).
5) and last but not least, I can start to think about the possibility of a full IronMan race in the future.

I had many. many other thoughts and times of deep "reflection", if you will, about various things during the 4 hour run, but these are what pop in my mind right now. So now, lets start at the start.

I decided to drive myself up to Milwaukee and the downtown area, to ride the shuttle bus up to the official start in Grafton (in Ozaukee County), this way Beck and the kids could sleep in for awhile longer. I arrived in about 20 minutes from my house, chuckling as I saw other runners driving up from the Racine area in the pitch black, like myself. I immediately noted there were volunteers all over at the parking structure on Lincoln Memorial Drive and Michigan, and they directed us right in to park for free, none the less! More volunteers stood by to help get us safely across the road, where we boarded the big yellow school bus without delay. I counted 20+ buses standing by, so far so good. Our bus pulled out within a few minutes after I boarded. I sat in the far back, and most of the ride was quiet, with one guy across from me fast asleep the entire trip. Some small chit chat from others, one guy was also running his 1st marathon, so he was asking questions about what to expect, what to eat, what to drink. Another guy, who looked like ex-military and was obviously quite fit, said this was his 12th or 13th marathon, and he expected to run it in about 3 hours. I was thinking about this time about how long the ride up I43 really is from downtown Milwaukee to Grafton...

So we arrive at Grafton High School, and they have what looks like the entire 1st floor open for the runners. There are many Porto Potties set up, as well as water stations outside. I go in, sit down, and start my prep in one side hallway. Plenty of time before the start, so no need to rush or get nervous now. I rub Vaseline on my feet (not the bottoms however, I had bad experience with this before on a long run), take care of the "chest friction issues" with some Body Glide and Vaseline, get my race #1028 pinned on, slip off my sandals and put on some shorty race socks, but leave my laces loose for now. I start a little leg stretch, and rub the leg muscles a little to warm them up. I get my iPod set up, and run the wires under my base layer short sleeve. Pack up my remaining stuff in the travel bag provided, and I head outside after a little while.

Its cool this morning, so much so that its actually a little uncomfortable while standing around. I opt to wear my arm warmers and light running gloves, and this was a good choice. There is a track in the back of the school, a real track with the soft running surface and lane designations, so I stretch some more and turn on some tunes, then head for a little warm up jog. I do about a 1/2 mile or so, get the engine warmed up and head over to hit the bathrooms and fill my bottle. I stop at the USPS truck to toss my travel bag on, there goes my $70 Keens and all the other stuff I can't carry, hope I see it all later!

I make my way to the pace group area, and wade my way through a sea of people. There were about 2,800 or so runners, but it seemed like 20,000 in this tight little start area. So I find my 9:10 min/4 hour pace group, and wait a few more minutes. Some local official says a few words, as I look at all the people shivering in the cold west winds, and then the gun sounds. We're off! Here I go, my 1st marathon at 38 years old!

It is a slow, uneventful start. I feel like I'm running way, way too slow, but I know I need to stick with the pace group if I'm going to make it through this race in one piece. A few miles goes by, there are people filling the entire road, side to side, as far forward and back as I can see. It is a little tough to avoid running into others this early on, and several times I have to hop, skip or jump to one side to avoid tripping on or falling over someone. Other than this minor inconvenience, which really served to keep me on my toes (literally) and keeping a little mentally alert, I'm feeling good so far.

Mile #4.8, pit stop time:

I had sucked down a bottle of water and some Powerade before the race start, so I figured I might have to make a pit stop at some point in the race. I just didn't think it would be so soon-man, its hard to run with a hurtin' bladder. So at mile 4.8, I see a lone Porto toilet at a corner, I make a quick decision I might as well stop here, so I cut over to my left to get off the road. I cut right in front of some girl (sorry!), almost creaming her in the process. The pitstop was about 40 or so seconds, and then I'm off, trying to catch up to the pace group. They move right along, and I speed way up to catch up-running like a 7:45 pace until I see one of the runners with the "4:00 HR" bib on. Time to slow back down, and time to enjoy the music and scenery.

It is still a brisk one, but people are starting to shed their clothes; gloves, hats, old tee shirts, nice running coats and vests, arm warmers. I see this and more spread all along side of the road. I keep all my stuff, you see, I told my wife that if I reached a desperation point and could not carry the extra clothing I brought, I told her I would toss it at an aid station and hope to find it at the finish. She told me, "NO", that if I tossed it and lost it, I was "SOL". So eventually the gloves and arm warmers came off, but I smartly tucked them in the sides of my running short waist bands, thus saving the day (and my cold weather gear).

Mile #10. My right hip is starting to have a dull ache, too early, I'm thinking, to be hurting like this already. A little doubt crept into my mind this early on, and I start to think, "What was I thinking, telling everyone I was doing this in 4 hours?" Well, there was a long way to go, don't think about it too much yet. Time for a gel.

Mile #13.1, half way point has been reached. 1hr 59m and change. I'm on pace so far. Hmmm, maybe 4 hours isn't our of reach quite yet.

Mile #15.5, or so. I pop 2-500mg Acetaminophen that I had tucked in my Nathan hand pack, along with some gels. I can literally feel them "kick" in a few minutes, and they promptly take the edge off the right hip ache. Wow, that was cool.

Mile #18.5, or so. I feel like I've hit the wall. I feel my pace slow, and I fall off the back of the pace group and cannot jump back on. OK, keep it cool. Take it at my own pace, don't blow up. The mental games are starting for real now, as I pass mile #19, and head to #20. I think about the fact that this is the farthest I have EVER run, all at once, in my entire 38 years on this planet. It is a mental game to the Nth degree, and earlier than I had expected. It is hard now, probably the hardest point of the race as between mile 18.5 to 21. I wonder if this is the dreaded "WALL" I've heard so much about. Despite the cold which lingers, I am sweating like nobody's business. I can feel my feet now, though it's weird, my feet almost feel a little numb, and another thought I have is that, I know I won't be able to feel my legs by the end of the race. Weird how I knew this, but I just did. Ahh, it's OK, keep running, there goes mile #20. 10k to go.

I run with another guy who's wearing a Chicago Marathon shirt. We run about the same pace for a bit, now seeing the pace has slowed to a disturbing 9:30 or so, but this is as fast as I can go right now. We make some small talk, I pull my left earbud so I can hear him. He comments on how they claimed this was a "flat" course, and how this wasn't flat, Chicago, now that was flat. He says the only time you go UP was to go over the river on the bridges. Hmph, I tell him I'm thinking of running Chicago next year. He says we've got another 10k to go. He gets up in front of me for a distance, I shoot another gel and suck down some Powerade/water mix I was carrying.

Mile #21. Groups of fans, family and people who live there are on the sides of the road, and their numbers are growing. I've still got my tunes blasting, but I can here cowbells and people yelling, clapping, cheering. I hear someone yell, "Nice job, Brian! Way to go man". I give 'em a glance, who the hell is that? How do they know my name? Oh yeah, its on your race bib, you dummy. Whoa, I am starting to call myself names now.

But then, suddenly, I feel like I've got my 2nd wind. I feel like I got a shot of energy or motivation, something like a switch being flipped. Physically, I felt stronger and this gave me a boost of mental courage as well. I pick up my pace, and I don't even want to look at my pace on the Garmin, I just shoot a glance to my HR every so often. I see the Chicago guy, and I pass him. It looks like he's kind of waving his arms, almost like he was talking to himself, or arguing with himself or something, with a kind of perplexed look on his face, but he's not talking with anyone else, this I know. I don't see him again the entire way to the finish.

I keep running, now at a much better pace, still feeling very good. I see I'm past 22 miles, and I think, 4.2 miles to go, that's all. That's like a fast loop around my neighborhood, I tell myself, that is nothing, you run that like nothing now. I also think about how long we've been running on Lake Drive, and I remember thinking about how up and down Lake Drive is. One more gel.

23.5 miles. We turn left and then a gentle curve to the right, and suddenly a long downhill stretch. I can see the steel gray and murky green of the chop of Lake Michigan, and I see the beach. It has never looked so good before this time. I am going a bit faster on this fairly steep drop to the lake level along Lincoln Memorial Drive, and I'm passing a few people who are blowing up. I pass a bunch of younger runners, who have started walking, I pass one younger girl and I see she has broken down crying, no, more like sobbing. There are more than one who is in pain, cramping up, tears welling up, people doubled over on the grass. My legs hurt, my feet still feel numb. I run on.

Bradford Beach, maybe mile 24.5 or so. I remember more fans yelling and clapping, yelling my name. I remember thinking, I need some super duper tunes right now, and fast forward until I find something with a strong beat. I don't remember the song. I remember passing a drive entrance to the parking area along the lagoons, and I see a time clock. Holy crap, I don't think I will make it in 4 hours! I dig deep, and speed up, under 2 miles to go. I run so hard I can feel my hamstrings and calf muscles on the verge of locking up. I glance at the Garmin, back down to a near 8 min pace, the home stretch now. On the walking paths past the pavilion, I see kites flying. The path curves, one of the volunteers is clapping hard and yelling at me, "GO GO GO, you got it man". The final 50 yards or so are all fans and family and friends, filled in the sides. I toss out my ear buds. I hear my friends yelling for me, I hear my wife screaming and I see my oldest Maddie on the right side jumping up and down and yelling. I try to high five but I hand her my water bottle instead.

Finished! I can't stop running, so I coast past the timer. I still can't stop. A girl in front of me has stopped, and I run into her, "Sorry", I could not stop! Wow, its done. Someone places the medal over my head. My legs hurt, but I feel alive. I walk over and find my wife, get a big hug and a big swig of Coke. I grab a banana, bagel and another water. I walk into the spectators area and get some congrats from our race buds Bob and Kim, and my kids, who don't really want to hug their smelly, sweaty, stinky Dad, but they do anyways.

As I cool down, I see many runners donning reflective body warmers which the volunteers are handing out. I see someone on a stretcher, shivering, sick. My buddy Bob and I toast the 'official end' of our race season with Left Hand Brewing Milk Stouts. My legs tighten up, fiercely. I am soaked and it's cold now that I've stopped running. Cold or not, I strip off the wet shirt and change right on the grass. I turned in my race medal to get the time engraved, and I am happy to see the final official time engraved on it, "4 hours 00 minutes 36 seconds". Wow, I made my time goal! More hugs all around, and my buddy comments on how I could qualify for Boston Marathon by shaving about 40 minutes or so off. I tell him he's crazy! We head off to get lunch and talk about 2010 racing. We talk about getting some custom race kit made up for our group-how cool would that be? Here we go already.

In looking back on the race, it was a great time and a super well run event. I've got no complaints about the race itself, a top notch event with top notch volunteers, super weather, and great results. I got all my gear back (thanks USPS!) and had no race injuries to speak of, other than the standard sore legs and feet for a few days. I know I could have started training earlier, but for that 1st one, I will take it. It was a huge boost, knowing I could put up that effort and stay motivated for as long as I had to for training. This is why I can now honestly think about the possibility of committing to a full IM in 2011; being able to finish the marathon was a big mental hurdle I had to get over for myself, before I could even consider IM. Now, I can stew on it over this winter and talk next year for 2011...in the mean time, I get to get back on my bike and ride some now, which is a bonus!

And, to be honest, the marathon also renewed my late season motivation. I've still been running, not nearly as much, granted, but the marathon helped my fitness level as well. I ran several 10k runs since, and have posted times of 49:22 on the 13th, 51:30 on the 16th and 49:37 yesterday. These are about race pace 10k times for me, so I'm happy with my fitness level and the fact we've got at least one or two more run races to go now this year.

Yeah, even though we toasted the "END" of the race season, the group of us signed up for the Milwaukee Lakefront Discovery Run, which is on Oct 31st-yeah, on Halloween! There were 5k and 15k options, so I went for the 15k while my wife and Bob and (possibly) Kim are doing the 5k. I say possibly for Kim, as she needs knee surgery soon for some meniscus damage, so she might be out. I'm shooting for 1hr 15min, which will mean I need to run the 9.3 miles at an 8 min pace. We'll see, I think I can!

I'm looking forward to the Discovery race and our annual Halloween Party later that afternoon/evening. All the friends and kiddies come to our subdivision to Trick or Treat, we pull out the fire pit in the driveway, and put on the big old pot of hot homemade chili, hot beef and cold brews and mixers. All the neighborhood gets out and about, with many of the adults dressing up (we all do every year!), it really is a great place to live, despite the rapidly approaching cold weather! Look for a Halloween Race/Party report to follow!


  1. Way to go Brian! 4 hours is impressive. Lots of people (including me) do much worse than that their first marathon, then hire coaches to help get them under 4 hours. You just went out and did it. wow.

    You've got an ironman within your grasp now. I'm seriously thinking about doing ironman florida 2010. a 14 hour ironman makes the 4 hour marathon seem easy though, huh?

    marathoners are a crazy group. You don't know what happens to your body at mile 23 (or it sounds like mile 18?) until you do it and push through it. Welcome to the club.

  2. Nice job Brian!

    Looking forward to hearing about what you set your sites on next!