I did the unthinkable. I trained (and ran) a marathon without talking about it.*
(*I did, however, talk about running the marathon after it was completed.)
In all fairness, this only took place after the Chicago Marathon mishap (really only leaving four weeks to keep quiet – rather than the full-blown 18 weeks a typical marathon training schedule has). Many of you may have seen this video recently circulating on social media. For those that haven’t – it’s a tongue in cheek video poking fun at those of us that just can’t seem to help ourselves when it comes to talking about our running endeavors. I take full responsibility for typically being one of those runners.
There were a number of reasons I decided to keep this race on the down low. First, I was still completely shaken up from having stopped at mile 17 at Chicago. While I still believe it was the right choice, I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t hard to face the constant inquiries about “how my race went.” While those asking clearly meant well – it also caused a lot of rehashing details that I could have done without. I figured in this case, if God-forbid something were to happen again, no one would ever have to know. Second, I didn’t actually officially decide to race until the day before when I signed up at the expo. I was committed to not putting any pressure on myself, which meant keeping my options open. Finally, and selfishly, I needed this race to be just for me. It was my comeback race, after almost two years of seemingly endless adversity. I wanted it to be fun – to be a celebration. I didn’t want to worry about split times or qualifying for Boston. It’s been the rare occasion that I have allowed myself to run without expectations and I knew that this would be far easier to accomplish if I kept my plans on the down-low.
The race itself was amazing. I may be a little biased, because I am absolutely in love with Madison. However, the event itself was incredibly organized and well-run. We stayed in a hotel on the West side of town, which was about a 10 minute drive from the start line. We left the hotel at 5:45 a.m. (for a 7:00 a.m. start) and had more than enough time to find parking (not a problem at all) and walk toward the start. Runners didn’t even start filling the corrals until about 6:40 a.m., which was far different than my experience at Chicago this year (where despite leaving the hotel over an hour before, we did not make it into the corral until after the gun went off). There was no seeding, as there were only about 1000 runners. There were, however, a number of pace groups offered. Another thing worth noting is despite the fact that there is also a half marathon run on the course, it does not start with the marathon and does not follow the same course (so there were limited, if any, issues with congestion). Also, no need for cheap “throw away” clothes (which are likely to be necessary for a November race), as friends and family can stand directly outside the start line and the runners can hand-off items.
The course itself was absolutely beautiful, but humbling. The race begins by running through the Arboretum (approximately miles 1-6). I decided to start with a pace group to keep myself honest with my splits, as I knew that the course was incredibly hilly and since I had initially been training for Chicago as my target race, I had done no hill training. After exiting the Arboretum, you run through the University of Wisconsin campus (miles 7-11). There were a few killer hills during this segment (there was one point where I actually yelled out “you’ve got to be kidding me” where I thought I had hit the top, only to turn the corner to face an entirely new summit). By this time, I had separated from the pace group and despite the hills, was feeling strong.
After exiting the campus, you run through the downtown and on the other side of the capitol. There is one stretch (miles 13-16) that was fairly unremarkable, in that you are mostly running along commercial buildings. During this portion of the race, I was still holding steady physically. However, this was also the part of the race where the “demons” start coming out (i.e. where you realize despite the fact you are doing pretty well physically, you still have a long way to go). Coming up to mile 17, I was starting to feel it. However, I kept reminding myself how much better I was doing at this point in this race compared to Chicago, and encouraged myself to keep going. Miles 18-20 you run though a neighborhood, where there were some slight hills. This is also where the race started to become a blur for me.
By mile 20 the race became much more scenic (running along the lake and through trees – absolutely stunning), but physically this is where the wheels fell off. The hills, while rolling, just didn’t seem to end. Many people, even those at the front of the pack, stopped to walk portions of the uphills. This is also where the self-negotiations start (okay, just make it to the tree, the water station, the next block). I also started questioning my sanity – swearing I would never, ever run a marathon again. By mile 23 I was complete delirious. At one water station, I grabbed Gatorade instead of water and couldn’t even get the words out to inquire as to how to get a water cup. The last mile was also brutal. You know you are close to the finish – but you can’t see it. It is also uphill. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was absolutely spent. I literally couldn’t take another step. I finished about where I expected to. While definitely not a PR, I am incredibly happy with how things went given the circumstances.
I did the marathon post-race hobble down the chute. There were bags of Panera sandwiches, chips, and cookies for runners, along with water and chocolate milk (and beer). Because the race finishes in the downtown, there are plenty of restaurants nearby as well. Another huge perk – the photos from the race are free and were sent out the very next day.
Overall – I was extremely impressed with all aspects of this race. The event ran seamlessly, the course was incredible (yet challenging), and there was surprisingly good crowd support. I would absolutely recommend this race, and in fact, can’t wait to sign up for it again (clearly, my swearing-off marathons hasn’t lasted long).