Saturday, July 7, 2012

Milwaukee Half Marathon

12:07 am. Is it time? No.
12:18 am. Is it time yet? Still no.
3:08 am. Now? Nope.
4:48 am. Alarm goes off, and I'm up with no snooze (a sure sign of a big day).

I was a bundle of nerves, but not really about the least consciously. More about the details leading up to the race. The English muffin with peanut butter didn't sit too well. It took me a little longer than I hoped to get out of the house. Do I have everything I need? I'm not exactly sure how to get to the right parking lot. From the lot, how do I get to the starting line? So many questions...that I have no time to really figure out if something goes awry.

As I came over a hill on the highway very near the starting line, all I could see was a line of red taillights disappearing into a cloud of...fog? smoke? What in the world? Oh, and flashing police or ambulance lights up ahead. I exited immediately to avoid the rapture that appeared to be looming up ahead. Turns out it was just fog off of Lake Michigan, and I just drove in a circle to the same place I would have ended up. No sweat yet.
When I got to the lot (with no problems) I followed the tentacles of people toward the mass of people (oh yeah, just follow the moving crowds, cuz who else would be dressed in running clothes at 6 am besides people looking for a starting line?).

First job, find a bathroom or the line of porta-potties. I could hear a man on a loudspeaker welcoming people and mentioning a bathroom inside the gates of the Summerfest park. I went through some gates, immediately found the bathroom, did not wait in any line, and then made my way back out of the gates to find a starting line. While you may not care about how easy it was to find a bathroom, it is a big deal on race day, and can cause some people to miss the starting gun. In my book, this was a huge success on Milwaukee's part, especially later as I began the race across the street from a line of porta-potties with at least 20 people left waiting in line as we started the race. Guess they missed the announcement about the other bathrooms.

Again, in order to find the starting line, I checked the map, couldn't really figure anything out from it, and then just followed the lines of people with race bibs all going one direction. Yep, sure enough, I found the first corral and kept walking to my own. It took me a minute to figure out which corral I was supposed to be in. It's printed on the bib, based on my registration. Again, Milwaukee, way to plan ahead for my forgetfulness!

As I waited in the corrall, which was just a section of road blocked off, the fog was doing amazing things to the downtown area. It looked like we were in an impressionist painting. The fog pulled the corners of the tall buildings, stretched the windows, hid or revealed massive looming skyscrapers. My nerves were distracted for awhile as I watched the porta-potty line, the fog show, and talked to some people in the corral.

We sang The Star Spangled Banner around 6:45 am, I choked up on and off watching people cheering on their loved ones, and then the gun went off.

We didn't move.

That's what happens in Corral H. It takes awhile for the front corrals to cross the start line. Finally we started walking, then jogging, then walking, then jogging. It's hard not to shoot out of there, but the masses of people help hold your adrenaline back.

I began the race with a pacing team holding a bright "2:10" sign ahead of me. That was my goal. I hadn't really put too much thought into it. I thought about my goal when I was signing up for the race, so that the race directors could assign me a starting corral. I thought about it again as I walked toward the corral this morning. I had no idea what my previous 2 half marathon times were, but I was pretty sure both were around 2:10, at least one was faster, maybe 2:07...? I had purposefully not looked it up, because I am a different runner now than I was back in 2005 at my last half marathon, and I am DEFINITELY a different runner than in 2003 for my first half marathon. This is a different race, and I just wanted to focus on today, not compare myself to a number from 7 or 9 years ago. Even with the lack of planning on pace, I thought that 10 minute miles would be pushing it. Early in my training for this race, I was running faster than I ever had before, consistently running miles within 9 minutes, even on longer runs. It was like I couldn't slow myself down. Then May happened. I was tired from the training, which was getting more intense, I had a thousand things to do to wrap up the school year, I was working almost nonstop, the summer heat was getting pretty intense, and my numbers slowed way down. My long runs saw a lot of 11 minute miles. So I didn't really know what to expect from today.

I remember well the feeling of invincibility from the first half of my marathon last year. I couldn't slow myself down, I was running on pure adrenaline until about mile 12 when three-fourths of the runners pulled off to complete a half marathon, and I had another 14 miles to go with the scant pockets of runners left for the full marathon. It was a mental disaster, and my early adrenaline led to a huge change in pace the second half. I couldn't make choices about pace, I just had to painfully and slowly put one foot in front of the other. I didn't want the same thing to happen today.

This meant that in the first few miles I had to force my pace to 9:30 minute miles. A few times I noticed I was going 8:50 or so. Slow down, Bethany. Take in the sights. Only the fog still hadn't lifted, so the only sights were the signs on the highway bridge that we were running on, and the other runners. Beyond that, where Lake Michigan usually lay, was a wall of white. I did notice a fog rainbow, as I called it. It was an arc of thick white fog, visible through the more gray, hazy fog. I wonder what caused that?

Around mile 2-3 I experienced some technical difficulties. I had just bought an ipod armband, and either I wasn't using it quite right, or my ipod was just too old and decrepit, or a mixture of both, but it stopped working. This is a somewhat frequent occurrence for this ipod, and one of the reasons I bought the armband, hoping to stop the ipod from freezing. However, it didn't seem to be helping, and now I couldn't reach the ipod to reset it with both hands pushing the two buttons at the same time. I took it off my arm and got it going again. Also, my Garmin watch, which I absolutely adore and can't imagine running without, was on the wrong screen and I could not get it to go back to the right one. This happens occasionally, and I am still trying to figure out what causes that. Wet fingers? Not sure, but eventually it did go back to the screen showing my pace so that I could once again remind myself to slow down.

My ipod stopped working again around mile 4 or 5. This time I couldn't get it to start up again. Because of the heat, I had started pouring water on my head, so I was figuring that I probably got the ipod wet. Yet another reason not to do something new in a race-who knows when you are going to douse your head with water without thinking about the electronics now attached 3 inches below your head? Once upon a time I was adamantly against running with music . I loved hearing the sound of my breathing, the nature sounds around me...I have also had some friends get hit by cars while running or biking, so I was trying to be safer as well. Then about 2 years ago, I became addicted to having music or podcasts to distract/entertain me, and so the thought of finishing 8 or 9 miles without music totally scared me. However, there were some bands along the course, and some people talking (love those loud runners who try to talk over their music-they are usually hilarious to listen to!). I ended up not minding the lack of music, but I was bummed that I couldn't listen to a new and special playlist I had created just for the race.

The course went up and down a huge bridge/highway, then it turned around and did the same bridge again. Then we went back past the starting area, and through some residential streets, some downtown touristy areas, and some waterfront parks. There was one big hill around mile 6-8...?, but it wasn't a huge deal, not like some other race courses' hills. After mile 8 or so, we turned around and pretty much ran along Lake Michigan back to the Summerfest grounds. It was really pretty, but by this time the sun had come up and cleared away all the fog. It was hot, though it was a pretty nice day for being summer. However, some of the runners were not doing too well with the heat, and it was scary to see runners off on the side being treated for heat-related stuff.

I found out that I am a weaver. I was weaving in and out, from one side of the road to the other, back and forth, in and out. I noticed this, but couldn't stop it. Well, I guess I could have, but I didn't really want to. There were obstacles like cones covering potholes, sidewalks widened or narrowed, runners slowed or quickened. It is much more fun to swerve in and out of people, although I hope it wasn't too annoying to the other runners! I figure if they don't want to run near me, they can slow down and let me pass them.

Each mile had a race clock, a mile sign, and a colored flag just in case they had to warn runners of dangerous weather. At Mile 12 I realized that I could probably get a PR (personal record), even though I wasn't quite sure what my previous times had been. I picked up the pace and passed a lot of people. I was very pleased with my time, over 4 minutes faster than goal, and I thought it was a PR. (I confirmed later that it wasn't, but not by much.)

Overall, the race was pretty easy for me. I guess compared to the marathon, most shorter distances at a pace where I keep telling myself to slow down would be easy. The fact that I thought it was easy tells me some things.
1. I could have gone farther at the same pace.
2. I could have gone the same distance faster.
3. I am pleased with my training (thanks Hal Higdon!).
4. I don't know how much the 3 gu packets helped, but it was a treat to use them, and I was thankful.
4. I want to do this more...a lot more.

My new goal is to break 2 hours, which is possible, although it may take more than one race to cut down my time, and I may want to do another marathon soon so that could affect how and when I accomplish this next goal. I don't know when my next half marathon will be, or my next race for that matter, because I am currently applying for jobs across the country. I don't know if or when I will move, but upcoming races are all right around when school starts. Since I am a teacher, that doesn't fit well into my life right now. So I started training anyway for an August 18 Madison (Wisconsin) Mini Marathon coming up 8 weeks from today's race. My body is ready for more, I think. My injuries after the marathon didn't show up for almost a month, but I am hoping that doesn't happen again. This coming weekend I am scheduled to run 8 miles again. Here we go. I love this sport.