May 10, 2010

Race Report: Lake Geneva Marathon

After I got done with work yesterday, I hopped into a rental car and headed up to Milwaukee. How convenient that I was in Chicago for this week for work – just a quick 90 minute drive up to Milwaukee, where I was staying with a friend of a friend, then 45 minutes from there to the race, and another 90 minutes back to O’Hare after the race! What an easy trip. The traffic sucked, of course, but that’s par for the course when hitting the highways around Chicago.

I arrived in Milwaukee around 8pm to meet up with Peter, a fellow Marathon Maniac and 50 State hopeful who went to school with my friend Morgan. Peter was planning to do the 10K the next day, and we were going to dinner with a bunch of his coworkers who were all doing either the 5K or 10K. I had never been to Milwaukee before, so I was psyched to see the town and hopefully get a good beer!

The restaurant we went to, Louise’s, did not disappoint. I opted for a light and delicious Weisse beer that was only $5 for a huge glass – fabulous! Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed on the food front. It was an Italian restaurant that had nice atmosphere but seemed pretty reasonably priced – the pasta on the menu was mostly between $10 and $15, depending on the type of meat or seafood. However, when the waitress read one of the specials (homemade tomato linguine with scallops and shrimp and tossed in a cilantro pesto), I was hooked and opted for that. It was totally delicious, and I was thrilled with my choice… until we got the bill. You know how they never tell you the price of the specials when they read them out loud? This one was $23 – close to double the price of everything else on the menu! I was really annoyed. It seems to me if everything is $10-$15, your special should either be in line with that pricing or you should put the specials on a printed card where it’s appropriate to show the price. On the one hand, I didn’t think it was an unfair price for such a delicious dish; on the other hand, I just felt scammed by getting something without a price that ended up being so expensive. I got over my annoyance pretty quickly though – I really enjoyed meeting Peter and his friends, all of whom were extremely nice and very interesting. Makes me want to move to Milwaukee! 🙂

We headed back to Peter’s apartment, where he solicitously asked what I wanted to do. Honestly? I wanted to get to bed early. It had been a rough week in training, and I was beat. Peter was very gracious about letting me do that (though I felt rude about just arriving at his place and then going to bed), so I got a full 8 hours of sleep before my 5:30am wakeup. Bliss!

I woke up feeling totally refreshed, and said good morning to Morgan, who had arrived from a late flight after I had already gone to bed. Since Morgan and Peter would both be returning to Milwaukee while I headed straight down to O’Hare, we took separate cars, and I spent the drive relaxing and chatting with my mom on the phone. I was a bit worried about the sprinkling of rain we were getting, though, and hoped it would clear up by the time we started. The sky did not look good though…

I arrived in Lake Geneva and headed for the hotel where packet pickup would be. When I stepped out of my car – brrr! I found out it was only 37 degrees out, and not at all the temperature I was expecting for a mid-May marathon. The week before, in New Jersey, it had been about 40 degrees warmer at the start, and I had been thinking at the end of that one that it definitely marked the start of the summer racing season and hot weather. Not so! Unfortunately, I had packed for a hot weather marathon – skirt, tank top, and VERY thin jacket in case it was cold at the start. I needed quite a bit more than that! Unfortunately, most of the other stuff in my suitcase was business attire left over from my week in Chicago; the only suitable items were a pair of cotton capri sweatpants and a cotton hoodie sweatshirt. I wore them at least for now, figuring I’d see what other people were wearing and then put whatever I didn’t want into a drop bag.

It was a very small operation (only about 300 runners across all the different length races!), so it was nice to be able to get in and out with my packet. I also liked that they gave you a bag with Gu and a granola bar, but left all the random papers (race flyers, local coupons, etc) out on a table for you to take only if you wanted them. I always feel bad when they fill the bag with so many things that don’t pertain to me and get thrown out immediately!

I ran into a lot of friends at the start – Morgan and Peter, of course, but also my friends Diane (fellow 50 stater who’s going to be finishing at the end of June) and Tim. Tim was the guy who finished his 50 states the weekend before in New Jersey (despite being almost pulled off the course because he took so long in the heat!). I was shocked to see him at Lake Geneva – I figured he’d take at least a few weeks off after finishing. Heck, I don’t have ANY races planned yet for after I finish! Tim explained that he pretty much started doing the 50 states as soon as he started running, so he never did any local races because he was so focused on reaching his goal. He lives just outside of Chicago, so for him this was pretty much a local race that he could just do for fun. Neat idea! After I finish, I should definitely focus on doing more New York Road Runners’ races and qualifying for the 2011 NYC Marathon.

I was mostly chatting with people while they were in the bathroom line (yes, indoor bathrooms and not porta potties – fancy!), but I didn’t think I was going to use the bathroom myself, so I didn’t get in line. However, with about 15 minutes to go before the race start, I decided that I wanted to make a pitstop. The line was pretty short, and the time passed quickly while I chatted with the other runners in line. Before I knew it, my watch said 7:55 (5 minutes till race time) and I still had two people ahead of me in line! Uh oh. Lucky for me, the two people in front of me were Nick and Karen, two of Peter’s friends whom I had met the night before. They were doing the 5K, which started 15 minutes later, so they kindly offered that I could go ahead of them. So nice! I hit the bathroom in short order, quickly dropped my bag off at the bag drop inside (left behind the sweatshirt, kept wearing the capri sweatpants, with my skirt still dangling on the outside), and bolted out the door to head down the street to the race start.

As I started walking toward the start, I saw all the runners coming at me… the race had just begun! Oops. I waved to some of my friends as they passed, and was rewarded by Tim offering me a pair of spare gloves – fabulous! I had managed to find a headband in my bag that would keep my ears warm, so gloves were all I now really needed to be decently warm during the race. However, I definitely looked like a mess. On the bottom, I was wearing olive green capri sweatpants and my gray running skirt over the top of the sweatpants (I left it on because the shorts underneath it would provide a little extra warmth, and I figured if it really warmed up I might want to ditch the pants somewhere during the race and go back later to get them). On top, I had on a black tank top (not visible), white long sleeved zip up hoodie, and the red short sleeved race shirt over the top of that. I “accessorized” with a black headband and slightly-too-big black gloves, and my fuel belt was underneath the top two layers of shirts, with an obtrusive headphone cord coming out from under the shirts and going up to my ears, and the whole belt creating a big pregnant bump on my stomach. I know it’s not really possible to look great while running a marathon, but I was a bit embarrassed to feel like I resembled a bag lady! I am definitely dreading these pictures…

Regardless of my outfit, I reached the start just as the final runners were crossing the chip mat, circling around to cross it myself and get going. It was kind of neat to be one of the last people to cross – it meant that anyone I passed was definitely behind me, and some of the people just in front of me would actually be behind me in chip timing. Sometimes it’s all about the silly mental motivation!

We headed up a short hill to the main road, and then proceeded on a series of rollers along the lake for the next few miles. I ran into my friend Diane and ran with her for a few miles, discussing our upcoming races and some of the ones we’ve both done recently. I was pleased to learn that I was in good company with my shock at the cold weather – Diane said that she too had put away all her cold weather running gear after New Jersey. She’s finishing her 50 states at the end of June, so she thought she’d never run a marathon in the cold again. Wrong! We both agreed that this race was reminding us very much of the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol, which was in chilly fall temperatures and was lightly raining at the start as well. Plus, the courses were similar – you circled a lake and ran through the countryside as well as along some beautiful vacation homes. We just hoped that it wouldn’t start pouring later in the race like it had in Bristol!

By mile 3, we came upon two Maniacs we didn’t know, so we introduced ourselves and ran with them for a while. They were from Arkansas and had driven all the way up to wisconsin for this race! Wow. We discuss upcoming races, but after a few miles, I decided to go on ahead while they dropped back. Since I was now running by myself, I cranked the music up on my Droid and just let myself go to the peaceful Wisconsin farmland.

Thus far, we hadn’t hit any major hills, which made me very happy – the comments on Marathon Guide had all been whining and complaining about what a hilly and tough course it was. I knew there would be a major hill around mile 17, but so far the course seemed pretty rolling and not horribly difficult. The scenery was also very pretty – if it weren’t for the cold, I probably would have been enjoying myself. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t seem to get warm.

One other thing that Marathon Guide had pointed out was that the course wasn’t very well-marked. Normally when people write that, race directors read those comments and try to improve for the following year, but we still came upon a little section that didn’t make any sense to me. Basically, you were heading out straight, and you could see other runners about a tenth of a mile ahead. However, there was a teeny tiny little sign pointing left, and you were actually supposed to turn left down a side street, then right down another side street, and then right again onto the main road where we had been able to see runners before. I was glad I saw the sign and dutifully followed the true course, but I saw some other people ahead of me who inadvertently missed it and probably cut two-tenths of a mile off their race. Not their fault, but also really not fair! There definitely should have been some volunteers at that intersection to keep that from happening.

A few miles later, around mile 11, there were a ton of volunteers at an intersection with orange flags. Each of them was pointing in a different direction and it was really confusing to figure out where we were supposed to go. It was at this point that we were also merging back with the half marathoners, which made things extra confusing. All of a sudden, we were seeing mile markers that were for the half-marathon (and to be fair, they were clearly labeled as such)… but no more full marathon mile markers. I ran on for a few miles without really paying much attention to that, but then I realized I hadn’t seen a full marathon mile marker in a long time. And wasn’t the half marathon course totally different than the full? I knew the full marathon was supposed to completely circle the lake, so unless the half marathon had a different finish line, someone was wrong. I hoped it wasn’t me!

I spent a few miles just running along, mostly content. I’ve done enough races to know that mile markers are often missing (or I just miss them!) and it’s nothing to really worry about. However, it was starting to scare me that all around me, I could only see runners wearing half marathon bibs. I started asking around just in case, and everyone was indeed doing the half marathon. Where had all the full marathoners gone? Or maybe more accurately, where had I gone wrong?

I was around mile 15 on my watch when I started approaching (half marathon) mile marker 13, and I knew that soon enough would be the moment of truth. With a photographer snapping a picture of my scared face, I turned the corner to find… a finish line and chip mat in front of me. No! I frantically started trying to think how I could beg one of the spectators to drive me back to mile 15 of the full marathon course so I could keep going, and then I saw an official looking person to the left of the chip mat. I started crying as I asked, “where were the full marathoners supposed to go?! I’m supposed to be doing the full marathon! I have to finish this!” Bewildered at my angst, he calmly replied, “just cross the chip mats and keep going… there’s another water station just up ahead.” Huh? Sure enough, I soon realized that I had been on the right course all along – the half marathon just ended in a completely different place than the full marathon. Serves me right for not learning the course better beforehand!

I continued on my way, grabbing water where directed, and soon was coming up to the “Devil’s Hill” at mile 17 about which I had been warned. Even if I hadn’t known about it in advance, the locals who lived at that point in the course had put up a few signs welcoming us… not that we needed a welcome with the hill looming in front of us! I ended up walking a bunch of it along with some other female runners I caught. When we reached the top, I thought the three of us might continue on together, but one of them was struggling with an injury so they were going to take it really easy the rest of the way. Meanwhile, I was starting to feel pretty good (at least enough to take off the space blanket I was wearing, though it still was far from warm) so I went on ahead.

Around mile 20, we headed off the main road to do a little loop around a planetarium, which reminded me of a loop I had done in… New Orleans at the Mardi Gras Marathon? No, that can’t be right. But gosh, all these marathons blend together after a while! On this course, it was a nice little diversion to go through there, and when we got back to the main roads, we were rewarded with a nice little downhill through the town.

Before we could head for the finish though, we did a little stint on some back country roads winding through the forest – reminded me a lot of running up in the Adirondacks. There were some beautiful horse farms in this area (with those idyllic white fences), and that aspect reminded me of Charlottesville. I think it’s so neat to have seen so many different parts of the country, and yet realize that so much of them is the same!

The view after the forest was kind of yucky – we had to run for a bit on the side of a highway, with the cars whizzing by to your left. I saw a lot of complaints about this on Marathon Guide, and I get that it’s not fantastic, but… it’s a small race. You’re not going to have police escorts and roped off roads all along the course! I felt perfect safe – there was a big wide shoulder for us to run on, and I had done the same thing in so many other races that it seemed pretty normal.

Finally, we found ourselves back at the lakefront… but now we had to dodge through people’s back yards to get to the finish. This was the strangest bit of course I’ve ever experienced in a marathon! Basically, the homes usually had a garden between them and the water, and there was a little sidewalk cutting through the middle that was about half the width of a normal sidewalk, and more just seemed like some kind of little trail you could use to get from one side of your garden to the other. To make things even more confusing, after each house, the path kind of split… and there were no markers to tell you which way to go!

Just as I was starting to panic that I would never find my way to the finish, who popped up but Peter – he had finished his race, then run back to mile 25 to do the last mile with Morgan, and now was running back to do the last mile with me. How sweet of him! While normally I wouldn’t love someone coming back to run the course with me, in this case, I really needed the help, or I would have had no idea where to go! Another bonus was that I got to hand off my gloves to him – hopefully I would look a little bit less like a bag lady when I crossed the finish line 🙂

Peter left around mile 26 so I could do the last bit by myself, and I gave it a pretty good sprint for the finish. 4:36 – not bad at all, especially considering how slowly I had been going earlier. I had definitely made up some time in the last few miles. But more importantly, I was able to check off the state of Wisconsin. There were just so many times in that race I thought that things were conspiring against me and I wouldn’t be able to do it! Only three states still to go – it really is the final countdown now.

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:36:41
Pace/mile: 10:33
Overall place: 74/112
Gender place: 14/27
Age group place: 6/6


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