Saturday, April 18, 2015

First Call Half Marathon: Breakthrough, Party Of One, Your Table Is Ready

When we last left Cheesy Runner Mom, she was licking her wounds after a decidedly lackluster half marathon in Lincoln Park, Chicago. But marathon training doesn't wait for whiners, and the stark reality of the training plan glared at me sternly: a long run with 14 miles at marathon race pace. This is where we join our heroine, as she flees to her homeland of Wisconsin in hopes of redemption...

There were supposed to be two half-marathons run at the same time -- one on road, one on trail. Unfortunately, the trail half was flooded out by rain earlier in the week, so those folks joined us on the road.
The Goal-Setting Conundrum

Since 14 miles sounds awfully close to 13.1 miles, I had signed up for a half marathon in place of the race-pace miles. I figured I would have a much better chance of hitting my marathon pace in a racing environment, not to mention that I would get a medal at the end. Sounds foolproof, but...I was also still in need of a tune-up half marathon to get a handle on my marathon pace. My 10-miler the following weekend (yes, I signed up for three races in three weeks, why do you ask?) could go great, but what if it doesn't? I will screech into taper time without a tune-up. Besides, 10-mile races are not as good of a predictor of marathon times as a half-marathon.

There is a mental piece to the whole equation, of course. After coming up short of my goal at last week's half, my self-confidence as a runner was not at an all-time high, to say the least. I was not at all sure I could even come close to my half-marathon PR (1:43:27).  But (so went my internal monologue) if I couldn't, wouldn't it be better to know that? Otherwise, at the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, I might go out at my supposed-PR pace and bonk in spectacular fashion!

It's kind of embarrassing how much time I spent during the week, going back and forth between the various options. As I rolled up to the start line/parking lot/packet pickup location, I was still pretty much undecided.  This went against all the Type-A bones in my body, but I decided I was going to wait to see how my body felt when I took my first step off the start line.


The race was held in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a super-easy 90-minute drive from my house. As proof that I hadn't surrendered all my Type-A bones, I was one of the first cars in the parking lot. No worries; I picked up my packet, pinned on my bib, chilled with my iPhone, and watched the volunteers bring in the containers of food for the post-race festivities.

Pre-race car selfie -- let's do this!
As more people started to arrive, I noticed a lot of serious-looking folks -- more so than at other races I've attended. Warmup jogs and dynamic stretching routines were starting early and often. With about 25 minutes left until the start, I decided to join them, and went for a half-mile jog around the neighborhood streets. While standing near the start line, I decided to join the dynamic stretching parade and did some high knees, arm circles and butt kicks. I'm mentioning this because I think this might have done me some good, and I'm going to continue the practice in the future!

As race time drew near, the race director stressed that although we had timing chips, the race results were going to be based on gun time because that is the only USATF-certified practice. I'm all for a USATF-certified course, so I lined up a little closer to the start line than I normally would (but still not all the way in front). The gun went off right on time, and we were off!

I'm posting this mostly because I'm airborne! I almost never get an airborne shot! From the Silver Circle Sports Events Facebook page.
The Race!

The course was an out-and-back along the paved Glacial Drumlin Trail. I was familiar with part of that trail from Ragnar Chicago (my super-hot-and-sunny second leg at high noon with little shade...good times...). I wish my Ragnar leg would have covered this portion of the trail, which was much more shaded (although not 100%). I was super-pumped to see a 7:53/mi pace on my watch for the first mile, as my PR average pace was 7:54/mile. My happiness may have made me a little excited, as my second mile was 7:43.  Oops. I pulled it back and found myself running with two girls for the next mile or so. There was a slight headwind and I found it was better to stay in a group. Unfortunately, the two girls were slowing, so I moved up and found another pack, and then pretty soon I was by myself, in a straight line of runners that faded into the horizon. My splits until the turnaround were 7:52, 7:58, 7:56, and 8:04 (not sure what happened there other than a loss of focus and the eating of a gel).

During these miles, since my splits were a few seconds off pace, I mostly judged my success by my position relative to those around me. Even in the 8:04 mile, I was heartened by the fact that I hadn't been passed by anyone and was holding my position in the race standings. I was proud of myself for keeping it close to PR pace (unlike last week's race), and I felt like I could sustain this pace for a while. However, since I was a few seconds off the pace each mile, I knew I would have to negative split the race for a PR finish, and I knew it would be close. I was cautiously optimistic, however, because I thought that I might have another gear.

The course description on the race website reads: "From mile 2.6 until the turn around there is a slight, gradual grade increase.  Make the turn and it's all downhill from there." Truer words were never spoken, my friends! Almost as soon as I made the turnaround, my pace jumped into an instantly speedier gear. This gave me a psychological boost, which made my legs turn over even faster. My next four mile splits were 7:48, 7:45, 7:44, and 7:47! Since these splits were in the second half of the race rather than the first, and I needed a negative split for a PR, I pushed all thoughts of a possible bonk out of my head and went with it! There are some races where you feel like you have locked into a groove, and these miles were definitely examples of that!  

Sadly, my next two mile splits came back down to Earth, at 7:57 and 7:56, but I had banked some serious time in the previous four miles. I snuck a glance at my pace band, and was happy to see that if I could just hang on, a PR should be well in hand.  Instead of focusing on my watch, since I was feeling good, I concentrated on reeling in people in front of me and picking them off one by one. One woman darted past me at about mile 12 like her pants were on fire and stripped down to a sports bra. I had held on to my arm sleeves until this point and had just been slowly rolling them down my arms, but when I saw that, it was game on and I flung them to the side of the path! A strip-off in Waukesha!

I am proud to say that I ran down that lady during the last mile and managed a mini-kick to boot, with a 7:40 split for mile 12, and 7:37 for the last tenth of a mile.  

I have ordered this photo, but it hasn't been delivered to my inbox yet. I will replace this proof photo when I get it!
Final Time: 1:42:39 (7:50 average pace) -- 48-second PR
Age Group Place (40-44): 1/10
Gender Place: 3/59
Overall Place: 18/96

Post-Race Fun

The results were supposed to appear on a smartphone app, but no one could seem to get it to work. Luckily, there was only a short time to wait before the award ceremony. In typical Wisconsin fashion, people were super-nice and I spent the 15 minutes-or-so making small talk. The race director started the awards ceremony with the oldest female age category, so I didn't have long to wait before finding out my time and that I had won first place in my age group!

Fun fact: A dude who finished right in front of me had registered as a woman and got first in my age group according to the results. Luckily, the race director recognized the man from previous races, confirmed that he wasn't undergoing gender reassignment, and awarded the 1st place medal to me!

I accepted my medal, stayed for a couple more awards, and then wandered out into the parking lot (gotta take the selfies, you know).  I finally got the results app to work when I was sitting in my car, ready to head for home. I started scrolling through the overall results, and I noticed I was pretty close to the top. I counted the females, and (excluding the gender-bending dude) it looked like I was third woman! I immediately exited my car and beat a path back to the award ceremony. Luckily, they weren't done with the half marathon awards yet, and they hadn't yet announced the overall winners. I got my third piece of bling, a $25 gift card to Fleet Feet, and my photo taken with some Fleet Feet folks.  This was my first time receiving an overall award, and to me, it felt as awesome as the laurel wreath at Boston.

I had left my other two medals in the car in my haste to get back to the ceremony, otherwise this would have been one blinged-out photo! From the Silver Circle Sports Events Facebook page.
What Does It All Mean?

Hopefully, this result means that I have finally started to emerge from my race result plateau that has plagued this training cycle.  I have only been chipping away at my PR, and this result was finally more like a breakthrough. I hope that I can keep the momentum going through the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, and that I can make the time translate. Onward and upward!


  1. Awesome race! I bet this is one of your favorites!

  2. It was so great to meet you in person yesterday!!!

    Huge congratulations on winning your age group and taking third place overall! LOL at the man who was registered as a woman. (How do things like that happen!?!?!?) And thank goodness you got the results app to work before you headed out. That would have been a huge shame had you missed your podium recognition!!!

    Those medals are amazing. WAY TO BLING IT OUT!!!