This weekend I ran the Madison Mini Marathon half marathon in Madison, WI. In addition to completing my 3rd half marathon, finishing this race also capped off the M2 Challenge: running both the Summerfest Rock n Sole Half Marathon in June here in Milwaukee, and its sister half marathon, the Madison Mini, this weekend. Additionally, this was my first time ever being in our state’s capital city (other than to drive through or around it).
I woke up at 3:20 AM on Saturday (!!) so I could get up, eat, and meet members of my running group at a park and ride in the suburbs, where we would then carpool out to Madison. We left the park and ride at 4:45 so that we could be in Madison by 6:15, allowing us time to park and get our bibs.
Like Rock and Sole, this race had a corralled start based on estimated finish time. The problem with that, for me, is that I signed up for this race back in January, long before I had run my first half marathon and could only run up to like 7 miles, so of course I had no idea how fast I could run a half marathon back then. I put 2:20 as my estimated finish time, so even though I know now that I can finish in under 2 hours, I was way back in the corrals and would need to do a lot of weaving to get caught up. Oh well.
Although it was a fairly cool and cloudy morning, it was pretty muggy. I was already sweating pretty good 2 miles into the race – yeah, not a good sign! The first few miles took us by some city landmarks – the UW Madison campus, a majestic view of the Capitol enshrouded in muggy morning mist, and Camp Randall, where the Badgers play. Then we went through some residential streets, and then through the arboretum for a couple miles, and then more residential and wooded areas, before heading back into the city and crossing the finish line on State Street, a few blocks down the road from where we started. There were sections of the course that went along the lake, which was more torturous than beautiful at that point. I was surprised at how much of the course was in the arboretum and wooded areas, I had expected most of it to wind through the city streets. But it was still a really nice course and I thought it showed off the city really well.
But beauty can be deceiving. It may have been scenic, but this was a tough course. I didn’t do myself any favors by starting out a wee bit too fast. I knew I needed to start out a little slow, but I thought I could probably still do the first miles a little faster than the 9:26-9:10ish pace I had done for the first few miles of Rock n Sole. I was managing a fairly consistent 8:40-8:50ish pace in the first 5 miles, and I thought if I could just maintain that and maybe kick it up a little in the last half of the race, I could pull off a solid 1:50 – 1:55 finish time.
But then the course threw me a few curveballs.
HILLS. Lots of them.
The course was chock-full of rolling hills. I knew there would be some rolling hills, but I underestimated how tough they would be. Mid-way through the race it was just one after another after another and it was starting to get irritating.
And then mile 9 happened. The 9th mile of a half marathon is a really cruel time to throw a monstrously big and STEEP hill at weary runners, but alas, there was the infamous Cemetery Hill, destroyer of dreams, crusher of souls. And aptly named, too, as I’m pretty sure I wanted to die as I was crawling up it at a near-walking pace.
After I managed my way up and over that beast, I felt like my phone must feel when it’s harassing me that it only has 20% battery power left but I still want to take a bunch of pictures and send 18 texts. I managed to pull myself together and finish those remaining 4 miles at a solid pace, but I never really recovered from Cemetery Hill. I figured that any hopes of a PR were gone now, and if I just kept up my strength I could hopefully still manage to finish in under 2 hours. I was exhausted, my legs were screaming, and all I wanted to do was just finish already. It’s funny how when you’re in the final exhausting miles of a race, things you once thought were such a big deal suddenly don’t seem so important anymore. “Negative split? LOL! Girl, you’re funny.”
Looking at my splits later, I was shocked to see that mile 9 was actually not my slowest mile. Mile 12 was. Which makes sense – the utter exhaustion of the previous 11 miles was starting to catch up to me. There were moments during that long slow crawl through the last 5K that I thought I might need to walk. It took every ounce of strength not to. I noticed a lot more walkers in the last few miles of this race than I have in my other 2 half marathons, which I think is a testament to how tough this course was even for faster runners.
In one of the most relieving moments of my whole life, I crossed the finish line there on State Street as the crowds cheered. The woman who crossed right in front of me threw her hands up in the air for the finish line pic, and I tried to muster a smile and do the same, but I was so tired I could only get my arms halfway up. I just didn’t care anymore at that point. Oh well, I’m going to look like a huge dork in those photos anyway.
After that difficult, sweaty 13.1 miles and a hill that just about broke my soul, I somehow managed to come away with….
Whaaaaa?? I looked down at my GPS after stepping over the finish line mats, expecting to be happy to have eked out a sub-2:00, only to see that after all of that torture I had finished in 1:55 and change. No kidding!
I faced down muggy weather, a crowded first few miles, constant rolling hills, the Mile 9 Monster and the ensuing burn out and still managed a personal best time of
Well I’ll be damned!
After the race I found my running group and those of us who are M2 challengers went to get our M2 challenge medals. People in my running group unanimously agreed that this was a hard course and a few others also admitted that they started out too fast. Then we all redeemed our free drink tickets, hung out on the terrace along the lake where the post-race party was happening, and headed home. Those of us in the carpool made our trek back to the Milwaukee area, and by about 1:00 I was finally home. Even though it was only 1 PM, I had been awake for almost 10 hours already!
I hate to admit it, but I wasn’t exactly over the moon about my PR. I think it’s because I know I’m capable of so much better than that, and since I’m done with half marathons for the year, my 2014 half marathon results will always show that despite all of the training, growth, and improvement I made, I only improved by 1 minute and 29 seconds over my first half marathon. I hate to be negative nellie and get down about a good thing, but it is a little disappointing that after all of my hard work this year, particularly this summer, I wasn’t able to break the 1:55 mark even though I know I can do it and that, on a better day and a flatter course like Rock and Sole, I would have trounced that time.
And then as I was driving home a little perspective hit me. Madison Mini was, hands down, the hardest of the three half marathons I ran this year. In fact, it was the hardest race I’ve ran all year. And yet, it’s my PR. If I could run a course this challenging and still come away with a PR, that’s a huge testament to the fact that my hard work is paying off and I am getting stronger. Imagine what my time would have been without those hills, or if I were running one of the breezy Rock n Sole or Wisconsin Half courses again. Did I come away with the time I want? No. But I’d like to think I still came away with the result I want: growth. As I’ve told myself before: a finish time is just a number. It represents one run on one day.
After thinking about it some more, I realized that what’s really disappointing me isn’t my finish time, it’s that I ran a sloppy race this weekend. As I mentioned earlier, I started too fast when early downhills and the urge to pass slower crowds got the better of me. If I had stayed calmer and reined it in during those first few miles, the rolling hills might not have sapped so much of my energy and I might have been a little more prepared to tackle Cemetery Hill – or at least not feel like a zombie afterwards. I know I ran this race wrong because I was struggling through those final miles. The final miles of a race should always be challenging, but if I have to drag myself through them because I’m utterly exhausted, it means I’ve done something wrong and have failed to run an efficient race. These are the exact same mistakes I made during my first half marathon in May and I’m disappointed because I thought that I had learned from them. I guess I haven’t, and I need more practice.
The silver lining of not having all my half marathon dreams come true this weekend is that this just makes me even more driven and motivated to crush my half marathons in 2015. I now really understand that achieving goals is not always a quick process, that it takes hard, focused work to achieve them, and I can’t just take half marathons for granted just because I’m logging marathon training mileage. Come next year I will have run a marathon and had a few months to get myself energized and fresh, and I will be ready to blow that 1:55 out of the water at the Icebreaker Indoor Half on January 24th.