Friday, May 30, 2008

Mad City pace report

The patio at the UW Student Union overlooking Lake Mendota

We arrived in Madison on Friday night and started the weekend on campus. Andrea, who spent some her youth in Madison, took me on a run from the University Student Union along the lakeside path and towards Picnic Point. After the run, we met with the huge contingent of runners from the online community of Kickrunners at the student union for beer and dinner. Meeting fine people would continue throughout our Memorial Day weekend. I can't possibly mention all the good folk by name, but I enjoyed getting to "know" better and meet the faces of people I only knew previously in cyberspace.

Although school was technically out, the union was packed with hundreds of people just hanging out on a Friday night. From looking around, it appears that students, faculty, and locals all congregated and celebrated together. With a view of Lake Mendota and a pitcher of Bell's Two Hearted Ale to enjoy, it didn't take long for me to endear the Mad City.

Saturday morning came too early and I arrived at the expo for my morning shift at the pace team booth. The Mad City Marathon was my eighth time as pace leader and the first time running 3:50 and also my first time running Madison. Working the booth and meeting runners is always an enjoyable part of pacer duties. Excitement overflowed from all the well-tapered and anxious runners. I'll admit it, I'm a running geek and all the pre-race running talk is a lot of fun for me.

After wrapping up my shift, I finally got to formally meet Mindi. Mindi was the leader of last summer and fall's "marathon trainer's thread" at Coolrunning. She led us throughout the summer and to our fall races. Our paths crossed briefly at the Grand Rapids Marathon where we both ran excellent races, but I missed out on meeting her on that great day. I was disappointed that we never got to talk in person and the chance to meet Mindi was part of the reason I chose to run this race. After the expo, Mindi took me on an easy 5 mile run from the expo and along Lake Monona. We turned around near the Monona Terrace and in viewing this lake I imagined the wonderful scene during the Ironman Wisconsin race in September. Mindi played tour guide and host to Andrea and I and took us to lunch downtown where we ordered takeout and sat on the steps of the state capitol. Mindi was apprehensive about running a marathon as a fun-run for the first time, but I knew she was in for a treat. I watched her as she paced well, stayed within my sight for the first half of the race and then she disappeared ahead and finished comfortably in 3:46. Thank you Mindi for hosting us!

I was a little bit worried about my pacing duties since had never run 3:50 before, but overall I performed well. A good performance does not always happen, but this one turned into a good race. My task for the day was to run 8:47 per mile, a comfortable pace for me which is slightly slower than my normal easy long run pace.

My one snafu for the day was forgetting my pace band. Another pacer suggested to me to set my watch to "interval" mode to beep every 8:47. This method worked wonderfully and better than a pace band. I don't know why I never used this feature before as my watch signaled to me each and every mile how far off overall pace I was. I simply looked at my watch after the beep to know how my variance and better yet, no computing in my head.

As marathon pacer, the only big mistake one can make is to start too fast. Since the first mile starts atop the hill near the capitol building, pacing the first mile would be a challenge. I informed my group before the start to prepare for a fast first mile and we did, hitting the first mile about 20 seconds fast. We corrected in mile two with a 9:00 minute mile and we maintained a nearly perfect 8:47 pace for the first 7 miles.

I started with a group of about 35-40 runners. As most marathons do, the early miles feel easy and relaxed if not a little anxious. Most of my marathon pacer gigs follow a similar script: A good number of runners follow me through ten miles. About half of that number through eighteen miles and the group thins out after twenty miles. Anyone who is running strong after this point usually goes ahead to finish well. I don't expect anyone to actually stay with me throughout the entire run. That is an unrealistic expectation.

Miles 7-9 were through gorgeous neighborhood. I think the neighborhood was called Maple Bluff. We passed a country club and gorgeous lakefront homes on the north side of Lake Mendota where a local runner pointed out the Governor's mansion. The course ran downhill during the eighth and ninth miles where we banked about 30 seconds to our pace. I would maintain this 30 second advantage throughout the race until after mile 20.

Returning towards downtown, I was aware of a couple hills near the 10 mile mark. The Gorham Street hill was steep but short and the group had no problems.

Leading the 3:50 pace group on Gorham Street near the 11 mile mark

Running on Friday night turned out to be a blessing. Nearing the halfway point of the marathon, we passed through the university campus and along the same bike path were Andrea and I ran on Friday. Some familiarity helped ease my mind as we passed the half marathon in 1:54:30.

Although the weather forecast called for rain, the front avoided us and all we had to deal with was a brisk wind. I imagined if this was my goal race that I would have not enjoyed racing in this wind. We continued to meander through campus and past Camp Randall stadium. Near the 17th mile, there was a brief uphill stretch along Monroe Street that turned into a grinder of a hill. I could see my group being tested. Approaching the arboretum, the pace group dwindled and now I was down to about a half dozen of the original 3:50 runners.

Miles 19-21 run through the university's arboretum. A scenic park that encircles Lake Wingra, the route followed a similar path as the Mad City 100k race. I am considering entering that race next year and I imagined what that experience could be like.

Throughout the race, there was one runner who paced with me that kept looking back at me. Donna, a first-time marathoner, executed a smart race and it was so adorable that she did not want to leave me. Leaving the arboretum near the 21 mile marker, I could tell that she was holding back to stay with me. At this point, I could tell she would finish strong and I encouraged her to run her own race to the finish. She lost me and finished over two minutes ahead.

The final miles circled city neighborhoods and the crowds increased. By mile 22, I slowed the pace down just enough to get closer to a 3:50 finish. Now running alone, I dragged along as many runners as possible to finish with me under 3:50.

All the race I anticipated the rainstorm, but it did not materialize. I approached the finish line to a nice ovation from the Kickrunners and reuniting with Andrea, who waited for me after her half marathon race.

All smiles with first-time marathoner Donna and her son.

My Mad City run finished in 3:47:57 and Wisconsin became my ninth different state and twenty-second marathon overall. After greeting finishers for the next 30 minutes, we cleaned up and enjoyed a post-race party at the Great Dane.

The Mad City Marathon was a well-organized, medium size marathon that I would suggest to anyone. I enjoyed the college atmosphere and would not miss out on some time on the lake at the union.


Blogger Blaine Moore said...

Sounds like a good time!

I should look into leading a pace team at some point.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Great job. My worst half marathon was this year at Rite Aid when I paced the second half of the four hour group. Still a great experience pacing.

Great idea about the watch timer. I'll try that next time.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Runnin-from-the-Law said...

Nice pacing! I've always wondered how the pacers can do that math in their heads. Nice idea to have the garmin beeping at you!

11:38 PM  
Blogger Mindi said...

It was great to meet you roots - very fun. What a great day for a marathon?! Thanks for all of your advice on this one - you were extremely helpful as usual. Hopefully we will meet up soon for another big fat PR - although I liked the slower gig too! And pacing seems to be such a great experience - I may have to look into that.... Nice job and good luck on whatever is next for you!

8:40 PM  

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