Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cellcom Green Bay Marathon 2015 Race Report: What Doesn't Wilt You Makes You Stronger

When we last left Cheesy Runner Mom, she was soundly sleeping in her Tundra Lodge hotel room, trying to focus on the positive (she gets to run a marathon in Green Bay!) and not the negative (she gets to do it in the warmth, humidity and wind!)...

Race Morning Logistics

I woke up to my iPhone alarm at 4:40, and after hitting snooze once, I was ready to commence my breakfast-eating (two English muffins), my hydrating, and my hotel-room-bathroom-visiting (TMI?). I stopped my routine once to wake up my dad in the hotel room next door, as he had agreed to keep me company before the race.

I double-checked the weather, and they had mercifully taken any chance of rain out of the forecast, but temperatures were still supposed to rise through the 60's at a rapid pace. I skipped bringing a garbage bag to the start line, but still brought a throwaway zip-up hoodie. I also put my phone in a Ziploc bag to keep out moisture from the humidity.

The race-day transportation couldn't have been easier. Race shuttles stopped at 15 area hotels to pick up runners and deliver them to the start line. At the Tundra Lodge, there were two pickup times, with two shuttles departing at 5:55 and two departing at 6:05. The pickup times are definitely geared toward the marathoners, since the half-marathoners started their race an hour later at 8am, but this marathoner was definitely appreciative!

I arrived downstairs in the hotel lobby at 5:45am, just in case there was a line for the shuttle. There was not, so I visited the lobby bathroom facilities and got on the first shuttle with no problems. In fact, the shuttle was only about 1/3 full! It was only about a mile drive to Lambeau from our hotel, so even with race-day road closures, the ride was quick. When we got off the shuttle, I made a beeline for the porta-potties, as I figured the line would only grow.

Once I did my business, I continued to lurk around the porta-a-potty bank, as I had a feeling I would be revisiting them. Mad props to the Marathon for ample port-a-potties -- even as race time drew near, the lines were mercifully short and quick-moving compared to pretty much every Illinois race I have done! I think this was because the bathrooms were also open in the Lambeau Field Atrium, but perhaps Wisconsin folks just get their business done more quickly? If somebody is looking for a Ph.D. dissertation topic, you can thank me later!

My dad got briefly caught up in the 1970's running boom and used to jog around the neighborhood for fitness, but he stopped so long ago that I barely remember it. He did a great job at keeping the mood light, and his borderline-snarky comments about some of the runners around us had me cracking up. I was so glad to have him there, and we posed for a bunch of MarathonFoto photographers to pass the time.

My Dad and I. You can see our shuttle in the background; those MarathonFoto folks are quick to grab you!

I look nervous, and I was definitely beginning to feel it!

Being a Leader of the Pack (Literally!)

The "Leaders of the Pack" (the social media ambassadors for the race, of which I was one) were supposed to report to the stage by the start line at 6:45 for introductions. First, we met each other, which was incredibly exciting for me. I love finally meeting people who I have been following online; it is like you know each other before you even open your mouths!  I wish I would have been in more of a social mood so I could have chatted it up more and taken more photos. Luckily, the other Leaders seemed to be as race-focused as I was, so I didn't feel too out of place! Shout-outs to Scott Bosecker, Alyssa Buchner, and Jenny Leiterman, and I wish I could have met Adam Marin!

It was also fantastic to meet Race Director Larry Lueck, and to finally meet the marathon's Media Coordinator Tammy VanDenBusch, who had been coordinating our social media postings. I felt at ease with both of them right away. Tammy informed us that after we were introduced and the National Anthem was sung, the Leaders of the Pack would be escorted to the literal front of the pack, where we would start just behind the elite runners!

I don't need to read the book -- I got to live the dream! By the way, Taylor, I'm gonna talk about your song later in this recap!

I had to pick my jaw up from the floor. I mean, based on time, I qualified for the first "wave" of runners, but I was planning to line up between the 3:30 and 3:40 pace groups, not with the 3:00 group! This was a perfect recipe for going out too fast, and I knew I was going to have to exercise some serious restraint in order to prevent it. But because I was in an optimistic mood, I immediately decided to look on the bright side. I was a little worried about hitting race pace right from the gun, and running with the fast folks would definitely provide some incentive -- if only to avoid getting trampled!

Soon they called the Leaders of the Pack up to the stage, the Race Director read our names and we waved to the crowd. I gotta admit, it was way cool, and I'm glad my Dad was there to take photos!

Meeting my public.
We stayed up on the stage through the National Anthem and then took our places. It was only a matter of a minute or two before we were off and running!

Miles 0-5: Wheeee!

I had the vaguest of vague race plans, and it went like this: According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, weather conditions at race start were 60 degrees and 92% humidity, with a light southeast wind. Since I knew these were the best conditions I would have in the race, I wasn't going to hold back as I normally would, and would instead try to hit race pace or a bit faster right from the gun. Countless articles advise runners not to try to "bank time" in a marathon, but I knew that these were not the conditions to count on a negative split in the second half of the race, when it was probably going to be warmer and windier.

I knew there was a good chance this plan would fail, but I was confident that a negative-split plan would fail, as well. It was a matter of which plan had the most chance of success, and by my calculations, this one did by the slightest of margins. This weather was setting up a no-win situation, but I had to try to salvage what I could.

When the gun went off, I took off like the elite I was...actually, I reminded myself of Derek Yorek, the non-elite runner who hung with the front pack for the first mile in this year's Boston Marathon. After a few tenths of a mile, I looked at my watch and I saw a 6:47/mile pace. Yep -- juuuust a bit too fast.  I slammed on the brakes and immediately started to get passed by what seemed like the entire first wave of runners. I saw the 3:00 pace group pass me, and then the 3:10 and 3:20 groups. It's definitely for the best that I let these folks go, I chuckled to myself.

The course began by weaving through the neighborhoods around Lambeau Field. Props to the marathon for including water/Gatorade stations every 1.2 miles throughout the course for a total of 20 (including three GU stations!), and this was decided way before the weather forecast! I would have declined to stop at the first aid station under normal weather conditions, but I decided that would be foolhardy. I started my routine of alternating water and Gatorade at each aid station. Each and every one of them came in handy (spoiler alert?), and toward the end, their frequency felt positively indulgent!

Around mile 2, we turned onto Broadway Street which bordered the Fox River on one side. It seemed to be mostly an industrial area and there weren't a lot of spectators. My goal was to refrain from exerting myself and just remain locked in a groove. I started repeating "Slow Your Roll" to myself like a mantra. Things felt very easy, but I knew not to be fooled.

Yoda is so incredibly wise.
Average Pace at Mile 5 -- 8:06: In perfect weather, I wanted to keep my pace around 8:15-8:20 per mile, so this was a tad fast, but not horribly so, in light of my new strategy to front-load my race pace. I was cautiously optimistic. 

Miles 5 Through 12: Hello, Mister Sun!

At Mile 5, we started weaving through the neighborhoods of De Pere, a town bordering Green Bay to the south. The homes looked historic and were interesting to look at. It was during this stretch that I started to appreciate the hometown feel to this race. The crowds cheering for us were not completely stacked with relatives and friends of the runners; I could tell they were Green Bay citizens who had made the conscious choice to spend their Sunday morning cheering complete strangers. A few of them also brought their sprinklers and hoses as well, because have I mentioned? The sun had came out.

You know, the sun? That yellow orb that was supposed to be hidden because of rain? The sky was blue, my friends. I braced myself for the end to this semi-enjoyable running party. Indeed, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, at 8am the temperature had risen to 67 degrees, with 84 percent humidity and south winds at a decidedly gusty 18 mph. (I just winced typing that.)

I started making sure to drink my entire cup of water, and if it was a Gatorade aid station, I would take a cup of water as well, and dump most of it on the back of my neck. It made me feel frustrated to be having to do this so early in a race, but I noticed most of my fellow runners were dumping water on themselves, as well.

My roll? It had slowed, but I wasn't yet ready to say goodbye to my goals. Taylor Swift began chirping in my ears to "Shake It Off," and I did. Look around you -- take it all in, I reminded myself. The residential streets reminded me of some of the roads that I train on regularly, so I tried to pretend that I was on an enjoyable long run. To my surprise, the trick seemed to work, and helped to keep my attitude positive.

And if I couldn't get a PR, I was at least going to get a good race photo!
 Average Pace at Mile 10 -- 8:15. BAM! No need to cancel this party yet! I congratulated myself while simultaneously trying not to think about how many miles were left. 

Miles 12-15: Time On the Trail

Just before Mile 12, we hopped onto the Fox River Trail, a paved trail along the east side of the Fox River. I was looking forward to some possible tree cover for shade, and a little break from the breeze (although a little wind felt good at times!). Although the trail wasn't completely shaded throughout our four-mile-or-so trek, beggars cannot be choosers! I felt a pang of jealousy for the native Green Bay folks who get to train on this trail, as it was very scenic and basically flat. I could picture myself doing many a tempo or interval run there!

Green Bay folks have the Packers and this trail! Those lucky ducks! Image found here.

At the medical tent just after Mile 12, I noticed that the color of the alert flag had changed from green to red (it might have changed prior to that time, but it had been green at the beginning of the race). According to my race event guide, a red alert flag means potentially dangerous conditions, and runners should consider slowing down or stopping. There were definitely more people walking and/or stopping to stretch than I would have imagined at this point in a marathon. 

Perhaps it was the front-of-the-midpack folks I was racing with, but there also didn't seem to be any social interaction between runners, or between runners and spectators. I had my headphones on, but only one earbud works so I was also tuned into the vibe of the race. (The one-earbud thing has been the case for a while, and I found I kind of prefer it that way, but that is a topic for another post!) To me, it seemed like we were fighting a battle with the elements, and this was taking all our energy.

As for myself, I concentrated on maintaining a consistent effort, whatever that ended up being. I had ceased checking my splits by this point, figuring ignorance was bliss. I knew that if a number popped up that made me depressed, it may set off a spiral of even more depressing splits. I started taking two cups of water at each aid station, and dumping one over my head before I drank the other. At one of the aid stations along the trail, they passed out sopping wet towels. Bless your heart, Cellcom Green Bay Marathon -- that was a brilliant idea and really lifted my spirits.

There were more spectators than you might think along the trail, and an older lady made a huge impression on me around Mile 15.  She kept pointing across the river and shouting, "That's where you're going! You've got this! Go get Lambeau!" Sure enough, Lambeau Field was directly across the river from where we were running. Being familiar with the course map, I knew we had a long way to go to get there in terms of miles, but for a brief moment, it didn't seem so far. Talk about a huge carrot on a stick -- I just had to persevere, and the Lambeau Lap would be mine!

Average Pace at Mile 15: 8:21. A definite downward trend was forming, but this was just one second off my goal race pace range, and I was over halfway done! If I "stopped the bleeding" and stayed the course, perhaps a PR could still be possible!  

Miles 15-20: Relentless Forward Progress

The trail that had seemed so pleasant three miles earlier was seeming a tad long at this point. Luckily, we were soon in for a change of scenery, as we now entering downtown Green Bay. I didn't realize that Green Bay had a skyline, and the sights definitely captured my interest and helped the miles pass. 

A glimpse of downtown Green Bay. Photo found here.
The weather remained unchanged, and the effort to maintain any sort of pace in my desired range was becoming very tough. The aid stations and their cups of water continued to be my salvation. At one of the medical stations,  a volunteer was holding out Ziploc bags of ice. In hindsight, it was kind of funny how quiet she was being about it -- I saw the bags of ice instead of hearing her advertise them. I blurted out "Ice?? Really??" She laughed and handed me a bag. I immediately stuck the bag down my sports bra, where it lasted less than 30 seconds before melting. Thank you, Quiet Volunteer -- it was my first smile in many miles, and it temporarily lifted my spirits while the ice cooled down my body temperature!

The 3:40 pace group passed me around Mile 17.5, as I figured they eventually would. For a while, I tried to hang onto the back of the group, but I eventually had to let them go. I knew that I had to make my peace with the fact that I was not going to hit a time-based goal in this marathon, and I would have to get joy from this race in some other way. Luckily, one of my reasons for joy was approaching!

City Stadium. Image found here.
Other than Lambeau Field, I was really looking forward to running a lap around City Stadium, where the Packers played from 1925 to 1956. I knew the stadium was adjacent to a high school, so when I saw the "school zone" signs I knew we were close. The stadium seemed teeny tiny -- even small compared to some high school stadiums nowadays. (I later read that the stadium had been renovated and downsized since it was the home of the Packers.) As a diehard Packers fan, however, it was still super-interesting to experience that part of their history, and it was a great move for the Marathon to add the stadium to the course last year!

I had been taking a Gu every five miles, but I decided to take my Mile 20 Gu at Mile 19, in an effort to try to jumpstart some sort of rally. Sadly, there was no rally to be had.

Average Pace at Mile 20: 8:31. Sigh.

Miles 20-25: Where the Heck is Lambeau?

The final exchange point for the marathon relay was just after mile 20 along Green Bay's CityDeck, a really nice boardwalk development along the Fox River. I expected to hear the roar of the crowd, but everyone was very subdued, just watching for their runner. After we passed the exchange point, I expected to see some relay runners blowing past me with their fresh legs, but I didn't see anyone displaying extra energy. You know the weather is bad when everyone looks like they have run 20 miles of a marathon, including the relay runners!

A nice shot of the CityDeck from Wikipedia.
I passed some time wondering how relay team members decided who was going to run the anchor leg and thus the Lambeau Lap? Is it the person who had the idea to run the race, or who did the most organizing of the team? Do they draw straws or flip a coin? Is there money involved?  I briefly considered asking a relay runner what their team's method had been, but since my sole objective at this point was to reach the finish line as quickly as possible, I refrained. (And if I would have read the marathon relay portion of my event guide, I would have seen that all the relay runners get a Lambeau Lap. They can join their anchor runner for the final mile-and-change at a special reunite area -- sweet!)

Me, contemplating the mystery of the relay runners.
At this point, I had made my peace with the way this race had turned out. Clouds had now reappeared in the sky. This made things a bit easier, but it was a little too late for any marked improvements in my pace. The medical tents still had red flags flying, and I silently willed them not to change the flags to black -- the Lambeau Lap was still serving as the World's Most Gigantic Carrot to keep me moving!

I don't remember much else about these miles as they wound through neighborhoods, slowly delivering us toward Lambeau. The spectators were as charming as ever. I continued to crack myself up at the involuntary gasp I uttered whenever I ran through a sprinkler. My emotions were definitely right at the surface; Mandisa's "Overcomer" came on my playlist, and I'll be darned if I didn't tear up. I was staying in the fight until the final round, and not going under! These past few hours had been tough, but I was getting through it and about to come out the other side!

Mile 25.2: The Lambeau Lap!

Finally, at long last, we entered the parking lot of Lambeau Field, and crossed over the "one mile to go" timing mat. I felt a thrill of excitement go through me, knowing that despite my ever-slowing pace, I was now positive I was going to make it to the finish. I also knew that my family had received the text message that I was approaching, and were probably (hopefully!) getting ready to spectate in the Lambeau stands.

We merged with the half-marathoners and began winding slowly through the lot, which must have added some additional square footage since it seemed to be taking forever. An additional perk of the merger with the halfers is that I immediately appeared to be flying compared to their paces. Some reviews of the race have expressed dissatisfaction with this, and if you were going for a tight time goal, I can see how it might slightly impede your progress.  But at this stage of my particular race, the ego boost from passing people was completely worth any minor frustration!

We entered the stadium and wound through its bowels. Finally, we were doing it!  We were going through the tunnel where the Packers enter the field on game day, and I saw the field and stands approaching! I turned the corner to start my lap, and by some luck I zoned right in on my husband!  I started waving like a crazy person, and a huge smile spread across my face!

Shortly after I stepped on the field!

After the race, my husband expressed his admiration that I seemed to be passing gobs of people as I made my lap. I was using my best passing skills (even threading myself in between people running three and four abreast), but I couldn't help it -- my legs suddenly had new life! I still hadn't looked at my Garmin in forever so I had no idea of what my time was, but I had a sudden desire to make up as much time as I could!
Almost done!
 At the same time as I was booking it around the lap, I made incredibly sure to look around and take in the sights of spectators and the stadium itself. For any Packer fan who is on the fence about running this race: The Lambeau Lap lives up to the hype.

See you soon! Off to finish the race now!

My kids said they handed out "hundreds" of high-fives. I didn't see them quickly enough to get one, but they didn't seem to mind!

The Finish Line

I had mixed emotions exiting the stadium. I wanted to do another lap (maybe three!), but at the same time, I was beyond ready for this race to be over. I tried to keep my pace at the same increased speed (although I could tell it wasn't even close to my goal race pace), and after a few turns, I could see the finish line in the distance.

Flying to the finish!
My race photos approaching and crossing the finish line do a great job of showing my emotions. I felt like I had ridden an emotional roller coaster throughout the race; from the euphoria of leading the pack to the disappointment of missing my PR goal and (as I could see by the race clock as I approached the finish) also a second BQ time. From the determination it took to gut through the middle miles of the race, to the joy of going through the player's tunnel and circling Lambeau Field. As I crossed the finish line, I was happy to be done, but I was already looking past this race and onto the next, ready to apply the valuable lessons learned.

I tried to raise my arms, and this is as high as they got!

Finish Time: 3:47:05
Age Group Place (40-44): 4/86 (!!!) (Top 5%)
Gender Place: 42/548 (Top 8%)
Overall Place: 221/1281 (Top 18%)

Post-Race Logistics

I slowly walked through the finish chute area and collected my heat sheet (I chuckled to myself that it was the last thing I needed, but I folded it up to use later when I cooled down), water bottle and sweet bling. The very detailed medal featured City Stadium on the front and the Lombardi Statue on the back. I thought I had avoided the leg cramps, but then they started, and I began the slow marathoner's shuffle to the Runner Reunite area. Once I got there, I was torn between wanting to sit down and knowing that probably wasn't a good idea. I decided to risk it.

Unfortunately, my family was having a difficult time getting to the Runner Reunite area -- the route they wanted to take to exit Lambeau Field was blocked off.  My husband informed me via text that they were standing at a gate about 3/4 of the way around the stadium from where I was. Oh well. I ever-so-slowly stood up and began shuffling my way toward them.

I must have looked pretty pathetic, because before long, a wonderful Lambeau Field employee came by on a golf cart and asked whether I needed a ride.  I hesitated, because I wasn't injured, I was just slow, but he kept coaxing me to accept the ride. I finally hopped on the cart, figuring I could jump out fairly easily if he turned out to be an axe murderer.  A few short moments later, I was reunited with my husband and kids (as well as, in a random twist of fate, a high school friend who follows my Facebook page!).

Reuniting with my parents took a bit longer, because they had decided to explore the halls of Lambeau in search of another exit and got a little bit lost. After everyone was safely found, pictures were taken, and we embarked upon the journey home to Illinois. My daughter had a mandatory dance rehearsal, and ballet waits for no one...even mother marathoners!

Another photo with my bling, taken by my Dad.
 What Does It All Mean? 

I'm actually quite happy with the results of this race, all things considered.  To be fourth in my age group at a marathon? Sure, I would have liked to have found 20 seconds somewhere to have placed third (seriously, that was the margin between us! Grrrr!), but for this adult-onset runner, that's not too shabby and gives me hope for better results at future marathons. Also, I was only 2 minutes and 6 seconds off of another Boston-qualifying time, even with the conditions. I didn't need the qualifier for 2016 so I'm not torn up about it, but it makes me hopeful that I'm not a one-qualification wonder, and I can definitely requalify for 2017 at another marathon if my training goes well.

The bottom line was this: the weather was warm and humid before any Midwesterners had the time to acclimate to the temperatures. If the race was scheduled in June or July, I would welcome race temperatures in the 60's (although perhaps not the humidity...). That is the risk you take with a mid-May marathon in Wisconsin, and I gambled and lost. I take comfort in the fact that the weather seemed to be taking its toll on everyone, and I wasn't just a delicate flower.  The women's winner (who had hoped to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials) even wrote a post-race column detailing her frustrations with the weather; she even reports that the temperatures were in the 70s! If she struggled, you can bet that I did! 

With that said, two things occurred within my control that could have improved my race time. I probably wouldn't have been able to salvage a PR, but perhaps a BQ:

(1) I will cop to going out a tad too fast in the first couple of miles, before I sufficiently slowed my roll. This occurred partly because I was a (literal) Leader of the Pack, and partly because it was my race pacing strategy.  Given another chance, I'm not sure I would have altered my pacing strategy given the weather forecast. However, I think I could have slowed my pace by 15 seconds a mile or so right off the bat, and it may have paid dividends later in the race. Or not...but it would have been worth a try!
            My Lesson For Chicago: If (God forbid) I face similar weather on October 11th, simply hitting race pace from the gun will be my goal. I will remove the "banking time" portion of my strategy. 

(2) I mentally cashed it in after the halfway point, going straight to my "C" goal of having as much fun as possible and taking in the sights. Don't get me wrong, I never completely stopped fighting. I didn't walk at all in the race, except for a few seconds on a couple of occasions while drinking from my water cups. But I stopped wanting to hurt, and was content to go for an easy run. Truth be told, I found myself in this mental space often during this training cycle; I was only willing to push so hard, and was often willing to settle for "good enough." I was able to speed up (slightly) in Lambeau, so I could have done it earlier in the race. 

             My Lesson For Chicago: I'm glad I had that "C" goal, as it definitely helped my race experience. But since my goals for Chicago will be more time-focused, I need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. This will have to start by pushing myself  harder in training.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the day is that I don't really know whether my training would have been successful. Did I run too many miles or not enough? Do I need to work more on my speed or my endurance? I don't feel like my strategies got a proper test. One thing I'm sure of is that my PR of 3:38:09 is not going to be as easy to take down as I once believed. However, I'm heading back to the course where I set it. If there is any better race course for it to go down, I don't know of one. I had fun in Green Bay, but I'm coming for you, Chicago!!


  1. Great recap! You did amazingly well for the conditions you ran in. I'm so proud of you!!

  2. Thanks so much, Wendy. I thought about you a lot on the race course, because you are such a bada$$ and run really well in all conditions. I didn't want you to think I was a wuss, so you really helped to push me along. Xoxo!

  3. Found you through Wendy, what a great race you had and that is some serious numbers top 5% in AG oh my!!! Loved your race pictures and especially the one your dad took with your bling, you can tell you had a great time and that is what it is all about! Congratulations!

  4. Wow, cool post. I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real hard work to make a great article… but I put things off too much and never seem to get started.