With just 4 weeks until the Fox Cities Marathon I entered the Badgerland Strider Half Marathon to practice race day tactics and guage my fitness. The Strider Half, organized by the Bagderland Strider running club of the greater Milwaukee area was a well run event with a very competitive field on mostly shaded trails from the outskirts of Milwaukee to the Lakefront and back.
I have had my most successful marathon training cycle to date. With just a month until race day I am fitter, faster, and leaner than I have ever been. My current training, organized and monitored each month by my coach, is an engaging and production combination of tempo runs and long runs. As I can I am mixing in cross training on my road or mountain biking. I also have added some core exercises which while helpful I simply need to do more of. This was my first race since the Bellin 10K in June.
Training this summer has been difficult with record heat and humidity in central Wisconsin. My wife is training for her first marathon so I have been giving her first choice on training times. She is usually able to run in the morning relegating me to the late afternoon time slot. I have had at least a dozen runs when the thermometer was above 90F. I have also switched to long runs on Sunday morning. I actually have come to like Sunday better. I feel more rested by Sunday morning than I usually do Saturday morning after a busy week of work. Many of my Sunday long runs have been in temps in the upper 70s and low 80s. As a runner my ideal temp range is 40-55F and I always prefer shade.
Low Frills/High Value Club Race
Our non-member entry fee, including a finisher’s medal and tech t-shirt was $26 per runner. The Stiders also had volunteers at all intersections and turns as well as just enough water/gatorade stations along the course. With other late August half marathons in Wisconsin charging $75-85 entry fees this was a perfect tune-up for me. I didn’t need to have streets lined with spectators, live music on the course or at the finish line, or even chip timing. What I needed was to run with other people, practice my race routine, and be sure I could maintain a goal pace on a well marked course. I got all of those things and more.
We drove to the start at Estabrook Park in Whitefish Bay from the north suburbs. We had pre-registered online and arrived around 0715 for the 0800 start. The parking lot was just starting to get full and the line at the port-a-potty was still manageable.
Before the race started I made two great decisions:
1) I ran about a quarter-mile south from the start area and used a port-a-potty with no line. By this time the line at the start area had about 50 people.
2) I ditched my tech sleeveless t-shirt and ran shirtless. This is the first time I have raced shirtless. I am not cut like the string beans that led the race, but at age 40 and rapidly balding who gives a sh …
At a few minutes to 0800 the organizer began to call the milling runners to the start line from the port-a-potty line, as well as the dense shrubbery on the east side of the road.
It was announced that the Stider Half Marathon, an unpromoted club race, had more than 500 pre-registered runners from 14 states and a runner from Canada. In the field around me were a lot of fit and experienced runners. I suspect many entrants were preparing for a fall marathon like the Fox Cities, Lakefront, Twin Cities, or Chicago.
Start – the Badgerland Stider Half Marathon was hand timed thus the start line was very low tech … a chalk line on the road and guy with a megaphone. I found a space a few rows back, double checked my watch and was ready at 10 … 9 … 8 … two cars are driving south towards a pack of more than 500 runners facing north. A volunteer stopped the cars about a block away. We all watched them do double “w” turns … 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1.
The route was almost 2 complete loops of Estabrook park and then a long out and back on the Oak Leaf Trail to and from the downtown Milwaukee lakefront.
Weather – After a few weeks of cool mornings and pleasantly warm days another heat wave rolled into Wisconsin on Friday. Instead of a morning temp of 50F, like it had been most of the preceding week, we had a temp of 75F and climbing at the start. Plus enough humidity that I was sweating in the shade waiting for the race to start.
Estabrook Park Loops
After about a half-mile on the park road the route turned on to the sidewalk. Fortunately that was just enough distance to space us out and minimize any congestion on the sidewalk. Running west I could see the front runners turning southeast around a large field. I was way to close to them and needed to slow down. I adjusted well and hit the first mile split at 7:24 which was a good match for my pre-race goal of starting at 7:30 minutes per mile.
I am always parched at the start of the race and like a slug of water at the first water station which came just after the mile 1 marker. I sighted the volunteer I was going to grab from and thought I locked eyes with her. Just as I reached for the cup in her out stretched hand she turned to answer the question of another volunteer behind her. Whiff … all I grabbed was air.
We ran a paved trail to the south end of the park. Turned north on the road and ran through the start line back to the side walk. On the second loop through the park I dove into a port-a-potty for a 3o second whiz which seemed better than running another 9 miles wanting to void. The trail through the park had some gentle hills which we would descend and ascend on mile 13 and up to the finish.
After the 4 mile mark we turned south on the Oakleaf trail, a wide paved trail on an old railroad grade. The trail is also below grade so it sits below street level and is shaded by lots of trees and buildings. The trail gently slopes towards the lake on the 4 miles we ran south.
On a Saturday morning there are lots of other users – walkers, runners, bikers – on the Oakleaf trail. While I never had my progress impeded by other users I suspect some runners in the middle of the pack may have struggled with congestion from racers and other trail users.
After a water station at mile 4 it seemed a little far to the next water station. My route scouting was not optimal for the race. I had not seen a map so I was simply running the road/trail in front of me with no knowledge of what lay ahead. I began to worry a bit that there would not be water on the length of the Oakleaf trail. Fortunately that fear was allayed when I came upon two water stops before the turn around. I was glad to have both of those again on the way back.
Usually I do my best to run/jog through water stations. But because of the rising temps and humidity I slowed to a walk for about 10-15 steps on two of the water stations to make sure I got a good glug of Gatorade and dumped a cup of water over my head. Mentally both were helpful.
Once on the Oakleaf trail I was not passed by any other runners and I was able to pass a few runners that went out faster than they had fitness to maintain. In the mile up to the turn around I was able to size-up the runners in front of me. Although we were pretty spread out there were about 10 runners ahead of me that looked to be good targets for the gentle climb back to Estabrook Park.
Keeping up the Pace – my pre-race plan was to run the first 6-7 miles at 7:20 and then increase the speed to the finish. That plan was revised as the temp climbed. Before starting I adjusted my goal to run the first 7 miles at 7:30 minutes per mile and increase as able towards the finish.
My pre-race planning, because of total lack of route scouting, didn’t account for finishing the race with essentially 4 miles of uphill running. Thus in the rising temps and with a gentle climb I increased my effort to maintain my 7:30 pace.
Final Mile plus 0.1
The final mile was run through Estabrook to the finish line at the Biergarten (yes, a park in Milwaukee has an operational Biergarten). During the final mile I closed the gap to three other runners and we were running the final stretch stride for stride, and of course each stride was faster than the one before. Just before the 13 mile marker the trail descended steeply into a gully and then quickly climbed out. My tactical decision was to match the other runners on the descent and ascent and then try to out sprint them on the final 200 meters. They must have had the same idea because we all hit the flat at the same time and they all beat me to the line. I probably should have tried to pass on the uphill to either stay ahead or be passed.
As I mentioned the race was hand timed and the results stapled to a whiteboard showed me in at a time of 1:39:40, virtually matching my watch, 67th overall and 11th in the 40-44 age group. I would say that is a pretty competitive age group to have that many finishers so close to the top. Official results for Badgerland Strider Half Marathon.