Quick summary … so close, yet so far.
Less quick summary … best logistical and tactical marathon I have ever run. Was on pace to run a PR (under 3:25:00) until a cramp in my left, medial, posterior hamstring (what is the name of that cursed muscle?) at exactly mile 23. The cramp derailed me, forced me to stop for some stretching and a bit of walking. Was able to run again, but didn’t regain my pace. Finished at 3:28:55 for my 2nd best ever marathon time and only 2nd time running under 3:30:00. Official results and paces at bottom of post. Map below is my GPS trail for the route.
Pre-Race: A Series of Logistical Wins
I drove with a friend from Stevens Point to the marathon start in Appleton the morning of the race. We left Stevens Point a few minutes before 0500. I got up at 0427 which was just enough time to brew coffee, get dressed, make an English Muffin with PB and chocolate chips, and do a final gear check. I immediately drank the coffee but saved the English muffin for about 0540, the banana at 0600 and a cliff bar washed down with Gatorade at 0625.
Logistical win #1: a few miles before the start location we stopped in a wonderful Shell gas station/c-store. The clerk kindly waved us through to the delightfully clean and warm bathrooms with Adele belting out one of her hits on the radio. It was ideal.
Logistical win #2: plentiful pre-race parking at the UW Fox Valley campus. At about 0600 we found a spot in half full parking lot within a block of the port-a-potties, start line, gear check, and open (warm) building.
Logistical win #3: after final dressing at the car I was able to walk 1 block and without pausing a step pass right into an open port-a-potty. Not as warm and inviting as the Shell station, but good enough.
Logistical win #4: steps away was the warm and open lobby of the planetarium at the Fox Valley campus. I found a comfortable bench, chatted with a spectator that was reading the Hobbit (funny side note. I told him it was 26.2 miles from the Shire to the gates of Mordor. He said, “Really, that’s cool.” I could have kept up the charade but confessed that was not the case, but Hobbits due to their short legs often complain that the trip to Mordor feels like a marathon). First time I have discussed the Hobbit before running a marathon.
Logistical win #5: we were able to use our own bag for the Gear Check. I recycled a bag from the 2011 Green Bay Cellcom marathon that was much bigger than the bag they provided. Ample room for my warm clothes and MDI (foreshadowing).
Logistical win #6: It was now 0645. The first bank of port-a-potties had a line 30 people deep, but due to some earlier recon I knew there was another bank tucked behind an adjacent building. The line there was only 2 people deep. In quick, out quick.
To the start line. I did a quick jog in a parking lot next to the corral. Got back just in time to help sing the National Anthem (I always sing along – just not well). I cheered for all my friends from MyTeamTriumph. They had a great roster of Captains and Angels. I need to do more races with them.
The Race – 26.2 miles (Because I CAN!)
One of my top goals was to run a strategically smart race. I often start to fast and pay for that fast start after mile 20. Leaving the start line my goal was to run 7:45 to 7:50 pace for at least the first half of the marathon. If my energy, legs, and weather allowed I would increase the pace after the half-marathon.
It WAS COLD!
The temp at the start was probably in the low to mid 30s with a 5-10mph wind from the West/Northwest. Since we started running east the first mile and into the sun I felt OK. My attire at the start was headsweats Road ID hat, no sunglasses, long sleeve technical t-shirt over a technical t-shirt, knit arm warmers, short shorts, calf compression sleeves, cotton/poly blend socks, and New Balance shoes. At the mile 1 marker I tossed my long sleeve technical t-shirt (finisher shirt from the 2006 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, results link). For most of the race I kept my arm warmers in the fully raised position. After mile 20 they were mostly around my wrists.
Guys Only Problem
Gals you may wish to bypass this paragraph and skip to the next paragraph … you have been warned …
My short shorts consist of a nylon outer with an inner liner. With a “feels like” temp in the high 20s from the brisk and building wind, little wind protection, and a bit of crotch sweat the tip of my penis was quickly numb and was numb for most of the race. In the locker room we call this “nipping the tip.” It stings!!! The usual remedy is a wind brief – specially designed underwear to block the wind. Since it was September I was not anticipating the potential for nippage. I have also treated this problem in the past with a strategically placed neck gaiter or glove, but didn’t have anything to nestle between my shorts and tip. It occurred to me post-race that I could have picked up a discarded glove or arm warmer off the road or even tried to get some wind blockage with an empty gel pack. Someone else’s snot covered glove – maybe not. A foil gel pack – sharp corners, very dangerous. Instead on short stretches of road that were spectator free I simply used my hand (sometimes in and sometimes out) to block the wind.Note this is different from “I was in the Pool” syndrome unless it is a pool filled with ice cubes and you pack your shorts with those ice cubes. Rest assured I don’t think I have any long term damage. Too much information?
Ladies Welcome Back
I settled into a comfortable pace that was consistent and comfortable. The route winds through the Fox Valley where I had worked as a Paramedic for several years. It passes several of the stations I worked from and many places I had run calls (man down in the bus stop, crazy man in the lobby, women fainted in aisle 10). The nostalgia was fun. Also glad to see some of my colleagues posted on the route providing medical. Strong work Gold Cross Ambulance.
The route is an open road course. Runners are supposed to run inside a line of cones. Often times I ran just outside of the cones for a more level surface. Road camber is annoying at the least and injury inducing at the worst. I always look for flat pavement. Another one of my goals is to run the tangents, or shortest line, through corners. No sense running the outside of the turn and adding extra miles.
Just before the 3rd mile the half-marathon runners turned and started their trek to the finish. The field thinned significantly at this point. I kept reminding myself to run my own race. PR’s are not run in the first 10 miles of a marathon.
Marathon Rely – BOO!
The Fox Cities Marathon has a marathon relay. Teams of runners switch off every 5 miles. To make the switch the runner must remove an ankle bracelet timing chip and pass it to the next runner that needs to secure it to their ankle before running.
Mile 5 exchange zone – relay runner in front of me stops dead in the middle of the timing mat to remove his ankle bracelet. I nearly pushed him head first into the pavement.
Mile 10 exchange zone – relay runner in front of stops dead in the middle of the timing mat to remove his ankle bracelet. I didn’t push him but really wanted to.
Mile 15 exchange zone … same thing!
Relay runners and race organizers there has to be a better way to make these exchanges adjacent to the course without interfering with and endangering other runners. My only real race day complaint was about the inattentiveness of relay runners and poor organization of the exchange areas.
Food and Fluids
Another of my race goals was to stay fed and hydrated throughout the race. With the cool temps hydration was certainly easier. Nonetheless I took gatorade usually a sip or two from almost every water station starting at the first water station and continuing to the finish line. I also ate 5 Gu gel packets during the race (2 vanilla and 3 tri-berry all with caffeine), and half of a banana. The fluid stations were well provisioned and generally efficient at passing cups. My suggestions (not complaints) would be in future years to hand cups from the left and right and extend the length of the fluid station. Several stations had the gatorade and water in a single 10 foot line (covered in a couple of steps) which didn’t allow an opportunity to take gatorade and water. Call me fancy, but sometimes I like to use the water to rinse the sticky Gu and Gatorade off of my hands.
This is my 3rd consecutive marathon that I have been besieged by cramps after mile 20 in my hamstrings. This could be from dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, hypoglycemia, fatigue or all of the above. To date I have not trained or raced with salt tablets. I want to work these into my future long runs (16+ miles) to see if this will make a difference on race day. I also might carry my own gatorade bottle as I might drink more from my own bottle and drink more efficiently than trying to drink from a cup that I am pinching shut and trying to gulp from. Perhaps I need to do more strength and flexibility training on my hammies. Have you had hamstring cramps? What do you think is the cause and remedy to prevent?
Cheer Zone at Mile 10 – THE. BEST. EVER!
After crossing the Fox River between mile 10 and 11 there was a double line of cheer leaders from a local high school (Kaukauna?) and a balloon arch. They were cheering, waving pom pons, and doing high kicks. The location was otherwise devoid of spectators and seemed to be shadowed by a mothballed paper mill. As I neared their double line I cupped my ears, as if to signal, “I can’t hear you!” The cheer team went bonkers and shrieked high pitch screams that I am sure woke the neighborhood. I ran arms raised through the balloon arch to begin a long climb up mile 11. Thanks cheer team!
Half Marathon – On Pace
At the half marathon I was on pace. I had run very consistently and comfortably to this point. My plan at this point was to gently increase my pace as I headed towards the finish. I felt good. I felt confident. Other than the less than 1% of my body that was painfully numb I physically felt great.
This area of the route was very windy. It seems that the only wind encountered on the route was a headwind. The field was pretty thin so there weren’t many opportunities to draft and the draft through my shorts was also a cause for ongoing discomfort.
Note: I missed keying my lap button at the end of mile 8. I also made a 30 second port-a-potty stop during this “lap.”
A marathon has two halves. The first 20 miles and the second 6.2 miles. Some marathons have a lot of fanfare and hoopla at mile 20. This one only had a relay exchange zone (boo). If there was a “Wall” or some other architecture I missed it. Instead I continued to steadily chug into the wind. At this point my two mantras were “Shut Up Legs!” and Anderstrong.
Looking at my splits now I think I pushed a little too hard, especially mile 19.
Cramps, They are a Coming
I was steadily passing other runners that were walking on very ginger legs. I could feel my hamstrings tightening and new my moment of reckoning might come before the finish line. I chuckled as a I passed by a cool water misting station (not turned on) between mile 20 and 21. At the mile 22 aid station I took another Gu gel pack and several gulps of gatorade.
Most of mile 22 was run on Broad St. in Menasha. The asphalt surface was very grainular and quite painful to run on. Kind of like a 100 grit sandpaper. A runner near me, wearing vibram 5 fingers, moved to the sidewalk. I should have followed him. This was not pleasant to run on, but other than being uncomfortable I don’t think it had any blame in my upcoming suffering.
At the mile 23 marker and the clock at 3:00 my left leg was seized by a cramp in my posterior medial hamstring (a big muscle right in the middle of my upper leg in the back). I felt the cramp coming and threw my arms out to balance my teetering load. I grimaced through a few steps while contemplating a remedy; stretch, walk, or amputation. I tried a couple of stretches, but I think rest seemed to bring some resolution. I think I was walking, shuffling, or stretching for about 1:30 which isn’t bad but it was the poor split times on the subsequent 3 miles that doomed me. Much of my life force was pulled into resolving that hamstring cramp. While I was stretching and hobbling I watched several runners that I had passed earlier lope past me. I am sure they were hurting but in that moment they all looked like gazelles.
The Home Stretch
With three miles to go I dug deep into my reserves. I continued to summon strength from muttering, “Shut UP legs.” This was the point where the course also became thickest with half marathon walkers. Bless them that they are out for a long walk and it is a wonderful accomplishment. It is so wonderful that it is best shared by walking three or four abreast with arms swinging wide. This made for some interesting weaving through the final mile on E. Wisconsin Ave. and Lakeshore Ave. Many of them shouted words of encouragement as they were passed which was kind and helpful.
Two More Blocks
At my wedding the only rule/decision I made was the DJ was not too talk … ever. I continue to believe that the best DJ’s at weddings and on the roadside at a marathon are best when they don’t speak. This morning I first heard “you are almost there” at about mile 6 which was only 20 miles short of the finish. Thus when I heard the DJ speak, “2 more blocks” I was doubtful and grateful that I was too busy with my “shut up legs” to tell the DJ to … but it turns out he was right! We made the turn at the end of Lakeshore Ave. and there was the finish line. A spritely and smiley woman passed me with a “you’re looking great.” Because of deep muscle memory I replied, “Feeling great Louis” even though I felt nothing like great. I lurched towards the finish line desperate to finish under 3:30 and was relieved I came in just under 3:29. Not a PR, but my 2nd best Marathon time. Note I have run my best marathons at 39.5, just over 40, and almost 41 years old. I am confident some of my best running times are in the years ahead.
Food, Food, Salt, Food
After crossing the finish line I received a medal, while resisting the urge to hug the medal holder, high fived Terry from Gold Cross, and stumbled towards the runner food. The two best words I could have heard were yelled into my ear, “Chocolate Milk” which is my favorite post race recovery beverage. Do marathons outside of Wisconsin serve chocolate milk and cheese curds at the finish line? I recommend it.
Cold, Colder, Coldest
The wind was ripping through Riverside Park. As much as I would have liked to eat more, visit with other runners, and generally look like a zombie it was much too cold. I found my friend Amy and we quickly (not really) limped to the buses to take us to the start line and our warm car and clothing. Fortunately the first bus we approached was the bus we needed. The heat was cranked. The bus driver offered to pull me up into the bus but I was worried he would have pulled me so hard I would have ended up in his lap.
Since the finish I have been focused on rest, continuing to move, and food and fluid replenishment.
- Pre-race logistics – a series of wins
- Steady pace throughout race, especially first 23 miles
- Adequate clothing for weather, except I could have used a well placed 1″ square of windproof nylon
- Staying upright and moving
- Consuming plentiful fluids and food
- I am significantly faster and fitter than when I first ran this race in 2006
Lessons to Apply in Future
- I might have been better off continuing to run a steady 7:50 minute per mile pace instead of trying to increase the pace after mile 15.
- I had my first ever running blister, a hot spot on my right heel. Might be time to buy some new socks.
- Windbrief needed when windchill drops temp below freezing.
- Be wary of marathon relay runners.
Official Results – Fox Cities Marathon September 23 2012
- overall place: 100 out of 915
- division place: 12 out of 72
- gender place: 81 out of 520
- time: 3:28:56
- pace: 7:59
- 5 mi: 39:16
- 10 mi: 1:18:47
- half: 1:43:15
- 15 mi: 1:57:59
- 20 mi: 2:36:25
- 25 mi: 3:18:26
Garmin Forerunner 305 Data