Thursday, May 28, 2009

Race Report: Madison Half Marathon

The night before the Madison half marathon trisko, my cousin Michael's wife Ana (who is Italian and thus a fantastic person to have nearby the night before a race) asked a simple question:

"Why would anyone want to run a marathon or half marathon?"

My brother, running the full, gave the Everest answer - "Because it's there." I expanded on that, saying that a huge part of the appeal of running a long distance race is that it's really hard to do. It's challenging to train for it, and it's even more challenging to complete it. That challenge gives you a tremendous sense of accomplishment that we don't get to experience in our normal day-to-day lives. Andy agreed and said that it feels amazing when you finish, and the beer you drink after a marathon is the greatest one you've ever had.

Little did we know that struggle and challenge would be so much on our minds the next day.

As always, I'm getting ahead of myself.

It had been a challenging couple of weeks. Solid travel for work meant lots of time way from Steve and Jack. Steve had to work Memorial Day weekend, so I decided Madison could be a Mommy-Son roadtrip. It was also a chance to spend some time with some of my favorite family members - my brother, my aunt and uncle, and three of my cousins. In between, I'd throw in a half marathon. Really, what could go wrong?

Andy and I hit the Expo, and I showed tremendous restraint, buying just a new hat with the race logo on it. They also had t-shirts that proclaimed, "Will run for beer, cheese, and brats," and I don't know how Andy resisted the "26.2 Miles? You Betcha!" shirt. In the brief time we were there, Jack convinced my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Chuck to take him to the brat festival, where he won a stuffed dolphin and three snakes. Good thing, since I think he only brought about 20 stuffed animals from home.

Back at the house, the Italian relatives cooked a huge feast of pasta and bread. It was completely fabulous. It being Wisconsin, there was also a lot of cheese. Excellent.

Jack and I decided to share a bed, which meant about a hundred years of him playing with my hair, having various tigers kiss me goodnight, and me saying over and over, "Quit kicking your legs or I swear, I will make you sleep on the floor." He finally conked out, leaving me to sleep, then wake up at 12:30, 4:00, and finally 5:00 when it was time to get up. Not good.

After bagels and coffee, Uncle Chuck drove Andy and me to the starting line, explaining that we shouldn't have to deal with parking. We did some people watching, enjoyed some pre-race nervous peeing, and I finally bid Andy goodbye to take to the starting line. Madison is an unusual race in that the half starts before the full marathon. It's really a good thing, as it's best to just stay out of each other's hair.

The starting line was really crowded. I actually wasn't able to fit on the pavement and just stood in the dirt and funneled through when the gun went off. No big deal, since it was chip-timed, but I wonder if they'll change that in future yeas.

I ran the first few miles near the 2:00 pacer, figuring I'd run there for a while, then pick it up in the final miles. That was not meant to be. At mile 4, I felt incredibly tired. And not tired legs, my friends. Tired, like, I could take a nap on this comfy pavement tired. Two weeks of travel and poor sleep caught up to me. I felt lousy.

Then, I made a decision: if I wasn't going to run a good time, I might as well have a good time. I made an effort to take in the sights of the very pretty course - we ran past three different lakes, past the Badger football stadium, through lovely neighborhoods, and through University of Wisconsin's campus. The volunteers and spectators were all friendly. It was great.

I finished in 2:06, nine minutes slower than my PR, and one minute slower than my previous slowest time. But what are you going to do?

I met up with Phyllis, Chuck, and Jack so we could watch Andy run. At mile 18 or so, he looked pretty good. At mile 23, he looked okay, too. I ran with him for a few steps and told him where to meet us afterwards. He said he wasn't feeling great, thanks to the remains of a cold he was fighing. Then we headed to the finish line. I saw lots of people who had been running around where Andy was, and Jack and I had fun cheering for them. But no Andy. I was worried. I know that a lot can go wrong in just 3 miles.

But finally, he was there. I yelled, "Go, Andy! Don't let them run out of beer!" Jack chased after Andy and ran with him for a little while, which Andy later said actually helped him.

Chuck went to find Andy at the meeting spot and he was nowhere to be found. I grabbed Jack and went to look for him. My fear, which I didn't share with anyone, was that he might be in the medical tent. Thank Yoda he was okay - my cell phone rang a minute later. It was my mom - Andy borrowed someone's cell phone and called her to tell me where he was. Andy explained that yes, I'd told him where to meet, but that in those last three miles it fell out of his brain. Totally understandable. He, too, was far beyond his goal time.

The good thing is, he kept it all in perspective, just as I was working to do. Sometimes, it's just not your day. Neither of us was racing under peak conditions.

And remember what I said before about part of the appeal of racing long distances being how hard it can be? Well, because it's hard, sometimes you're not going to succeed. If you hit your goal or set a PR every time you toe the line, then you're not setting tough enough goals. Finishing a race strong and getting a PR is an amazing feeling; I know since it happened to me just a few weeks ago. But the other side of the coin is real, too. There is some value, even some satisfaction that can come from working hard at something and not making the mark.


Roisin said...

That's still pretty fast :) Congratulations!

newsjunkie said...

Hey in my wildest dreams I'll still never come close to that time!

Congratulations on getting another one under your belt!