The Instep Ice Breaker event at the Pettit National Ice Center includes a 5K, half marathon, marathon relay, and full marathon. They also have a Gold Medal Challenge, where runners can participate in the half marathon and marathon. The lowest combined time wins.
In 2010, I was the female Gold Medal Challenge winner. I was 9th in the half marathon, and 2nd in the marathon. However, the women who finished in front of me were not participating in the Gold Medal Challenge.
Last year's female marathon winner was Julie Spenser of Baraboo. Julie is one of the top female runners in Wisconsin. She ran Boston in the elite field in 2010, and ran a 2:48, earning the number 2 spot on the list of Wisconsin women marathoners in 2010.
I learned a few months ago that Julie had signed up for the Gold Medal Challenge this year. (She is Julie Faylona now.) I joked that I was mad that a faster runner had signed up, and though I was a tiny bit bummed, this actually took some pressure off of me, as I knew I would not have to worry about defending my title. My chances of beating Julie in either event would be slim to none.
My plan was to simply focus on my own races. I would set a time goal for myself, and simply work towards that.
In Saturday's half marathon, I ran a 1:32:59, which earned me 4th place in the women's field. Julie was first, with a time of 1:28:02. The second and third place women, Jennifer Chaudoir and Heather Haviland, were not part of the Gold Medal Challenge.
Chatting afterwards with Julie, we both shared the same tired soreness in our quads. She asked if I had any advice, I simply said 'Ice bath'. She agreed that was a good idea. Though we are competitors, there is no rivalry, or animosity. I absolutely want Julie to do her best.
A little bit of background and logistics about the events:
The half marathon is 47.7 laps around the 0.275 mile track, the marathon is 95.4 laps. Laps are counted automatically using the chip timing system. Completed lap counts for participants are displayed on a large video screen. There is also a smaller screen that displays completed counts and the elapsed time for the lap just completed. The large screen scrolls through the names repeatedly top to bottom. Your name may or may not be displayed as you run past it. In contrast, the small screen displays your name right as you pass by it. You need to look fast as you pass, there is barely enough time to see your name and time before you are past the screen. There are also many volunteers available that you can ask for your lap count or other information, and they will report to you the next time you come around.
The track is about 2 lanes wide, there is room for about 3 runners across. Runners are instructed to stay on the outside lane, except when passing. If you need to pass someone on the inside lane, you call out 'Track' and they move over.
The aid station is one long table. Because cups and spilling water would create a mess and sticky, slippery conditions, each runner must bring their own water bottle. Bottles are arranged by bib number. When you want your bottle, you call out your bib number to a volunteer, and on your next lap, they will hand you your bottle. I carry mine around for a lap, and then hand it back to them the next time around. This system works very well.
I was happy with my half marathon. I accomplished my goal of running a very steady race. I was less than a minute slower than my half marathon PR.
When I got up Sunday morning, my legs were a bit sore. I really had no idea how I would do in the marathon, but looked over pace charts, and picked a range of paces that I would shoot for. My main goal was to run a steady pace. I run by feel. I try to pick a pace early that I can maintain comfortably for the first 22+ miles, and uncomfortably for the final 4 or so.
An interesting difference between a marathon on a track and a marathon on a road is how you know your standing in the field. If you can count how many times the leaders lap you, and keep track of how many are lapping you, you can know exactly how far back you are.
After about 10 miles, or 36 laps, I was behind Julie by 2 or 3 laps. I was 1 or 2 laps behind the second female, a woman named Abigail, who was not in the Gold Medal challenge.
Around 38 laps, I caught up to Abigail, and stayed close behind her. As we passed the small video screen, I tried to see what lap she was on. Robert Wehner, volunteer, accomplished trail runner, and race director of a couple local ultra marathons, saw me trying to read the screen as I passed by. He reported to me how many laps I had completed. A few more times around, I was still right with Abigail, and I finally asked Robert - how many laps has SHE done?
On my next time around, Robert told me that Abigail and I were on the same lap. I stayed right behind her for a few more laps, and then somewhere in the upper 40s, I passed her.
Running partner Dennis was also running the marathon. We'd pat each other on the shoulder each time I passed him and offer each other encouragement. Shortly after I passed Abigail, he told me that he talked to Julie, and she was struggling.
I was holding steady. Each lap, Robert reported to me that I was gaining on Julie. He said I was gaining about 20 seconds per lap. The thought I could take the lead gave me a boost of energy, and I sped up a bit. After a few more laps, I passed her. We offered each other encouragement. A few more laps, and I passed her again. I was in the lead!
I then told Robert: "I need 5 minutes for the Gold Medal Challenge". I continued to run a steady pace. I lapped Julie again.
After about 80 laps, I had more than a 5 minute lead over Julie. I just needed to hold steady, and stay out of the restroom. I had a little twinge of tummy discomfort, and worried I'd have another Boston experience, where suddenly, without warning, my tummy held me hostage in a porta-potty for over 5 minutes.
My tummy twinge went away quickly, and stayed away. I held my steady pace, my lead continued to grow. I finished with a 3:16. I won both the marathon and Gold Medal Challenge.
I was in a bit of disbelief. I teared up a bit. I was so excited.
When Julie finished, we congratulated each other. She said that she felt okay, but her legs just wouldn't move. I certainly know that feeling.
Some people scoff at the thought of running lap after lap after lap for a half and full marathon. Though the scenery is dull, the event is unique. Music plays thoughout the event, an announcer tells us facts about runners that were submitted when we signed up, you are always among the leaders as well as the mid and back of pack, allowing you to see friends throughout the event.
Congrats to all my friends who also finished the marathon: Dennis Hanna, Mary Gorski, Dave Jesse, Mike Henze, Heather Lipusch, Kevin Gracey, Matt Weis and Kathy Rytman.
Many thanks to race volunteers Jerry Cameron and Robert Wehner, and race directors Chris Ponteri and Dana Schulz.