(I was victorious in the first game...mostly because my father-in-law abstained from answering any questions...and this led my competitive instincts to tell me the wine was making me smarter. Hence, more wine.)
After some soup and a bit of coffee Saturday morning, I was on my way down to Milwaukee with my parents. The car's thermometer read 7 above, which constitues a heat wave right now. The trip was uneventful and we arrived at the Pettit Center at roughly 7:25. I checked in, got my shirt, got my chip, and made my way inside to the skating arena. The scene for the marathon was pretty cool. The Pettit Center is a great venue--there are two full size hockey/figure skating rinks on the inside, with a long track speed skating oval around them. Immediately outside of the oval is the running track, all two lanes of it. The place is decorated everywhere with banners of the Olympians who have trained there, from Dan Jansen, and Bonnie Blair (all Wisco natives, along with Eric Heiden) to the most recent Olympic medalists like Joey Cheek and Kip Carpenter. Each runner had their own area in one turn of the track for their stuff (bags, extra layers of clothing, etc) and there was a table set up with water bottles tagged by your bib number. Because of the indoor environment, there weren't any cups. The runners simply ran by the table, asked a volunteer to fill up their bottle with water or Powerade, and the next time by the volunteer would hand you your bottle. During the entire marathon, I never stopped running for a single step. The best part? The "Watch for Zambonis Crossing" sign. Quite a setup!
I got my bags in their spot, got my bottle filled up with 1/2 water, 1/2 powerade, and heard an announcement for the pre-race meeting. I had read the rules and news about the event, but listened in as Chris, the RD (what a great job he did for an inaugural event!), explained the rules of passing. He suggested the runners stay in the outside lane (the track is two lanes wide), and when passing, use the inside lane. If a runner was approaching a group of slower runners, the key word was "Track." This would let the runners being overtaking know to get to the outside.
On my way to the starting line, Jerry Cameron, who was volunteering at the event, called out my name to say hello. We laughed that the last time we saw each other was at around mile 21 of the Lakefront Marathon, before we both BQ'd. Jerry told me to "kick butt." I didn't think I had much in me for the event and simply wanted to keep a steady HR the majority of the run, but he was having none of it.
With about 5 minutes to go before the start, I wanted to get some warmup jogging in, so I took off back and forth on the backstretch of the track. We actually started in "Turn 3" of the track because the marathon would actually be 95.4 laps. I got to warm up to "Let It Rock," one of my personal requests to the RD, and it got my blood flowing big time! Especially because it didn't include the Lil' Wayne crap.
With a gun shot (I hope nobody was injured) we began at 8:00 AM, for what would be 95.4 laps around the Pettit Center. The speed skating track was freshly groomed and empty and there was an excitement among the runners that I'm not sure I've felt before. Maybe at Chicago. I guess part of the reason for the excitement is the fact if you signed up for this race, you have to have a positive mindset and find enjoyment in the "little things," which I surely did throughout the day.
One of the many amazing aspects of my parents is their ability to feel comfortable in any situation. On the way down to the race, I reiterated to them that they did not have to stay the entire day. They could go get breakfast for a while or keep themselves busy anyway they wanted to. 95 laps is a long time to watch someone run in circles. Still, they were there (besides one run to McDonald's for coffee) and were talking to everyone, from Jerry, to a lady sitting near them watching her husband run, to a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
From the onset, I fell into a great rhythm. I was watching my HR and making sure it didn't go over 160, and ran on only that and my breathing. I had no idea what my mile pace was, as the only way of tracking your progress was an overhead projection that showed your running order and how many laps you had to go. In the early stages, I was in the 40's in place, with a LONG way to go. I was lapped by the eventual winner (finishing in 2:37) before I finished my first lap around the track. Amazing.
As time went on, my rhythm continued. I grabbed my bottle from the volunteers every 20 minutes and got some fluids, but other than that, I simply felt great--although I would have loved to know what pace I was running.
Fast forward about an hour and a half. I've continued to move, keeping my HR in the 153-159 range. I still felt fantastic, but knew there was still more than half of the marathon to go. At around 1:43 I passed the "47 laps to go" mark and knew I was somewhere very close to half way. I had also moved up into ~15th place. I seemed to get stronger as the race went on. About 2 hours in, "List of Demands" (thanks, Steve) was played and it really got me going, being another of my request songs. As I passed the finish line, Chris (RD) asked me if the "music was okay." I told him it was fantastic...but about an hour early. I could have used the rush that song provided at the 3 hour mark.
I continued to plug along, sub 160 HR and feeling stronger as I went. Ellie, her mom, and her bro, Doug (aka "The Doug") and his friend, Kelly, arrived with about 20 laps to go. What a lift that was! Ellie actually felt terrible for getting there late, but I told her to go to yoga Saturday morning, and then drive down to the run, as her arrival would provide a great boost for me.
At this time some of the runners ahead of me were starting to feel the distance. I began to pick them off (although I didn't know it) one by one and creep into the top 10 (!). My dad was really starting to get into it, too. He was pacing from the overhead projector showing my place, to my mom, and back over and over again, also checking on what runners were ahead of me. He was also taking my lap splits (right around 2:00 all day) and letting me know that I was catching the runners ahead of me. My dad is a rabid race car fan, so watching this marathon was right up his alley. At one point he told me that "passing the bald guy with the earring is for position!" Another jolt to the adrenal glands, and I was into 8th place.
With my cheering section in full force, I could hear RD Chris calling out the runners that were close to finishing. Soon enough he was announcing that I had 5..then 4...then 3 laps to go. Every time, before I was even through the first turn, he would be announcing that the next runner (John from Oshkosh) was also on the same lap as me. Yikes! I couldn't get caught! My pace and HR began to increase and reached into the 170's. I was starting to feel a bit like I did in Madison this spring (i.e. verge of puking), but was trying to hold it together. Finally, I crossed the finish line and had one lap to go. 94 down, 1 to go!
I took the first turn really fast. I yelled "Track" really loud at one point, as I was well beyond the point of patience. Heading down the backstretch, my breathing increased dramatically and I felt a cough coming on....uh oh. I slowed down a bunch, really really really not wanting to puke, and entered the final corners. Exiting those turns I stabilized a bit and finished relatively strong, in 3:12:50, for 7th overall. Wow!
I got cold really fast, so after getting some pictures, I headed to my bag to get some additional layers. I couldn't believe I had run 3:12! As terrible as I had felt for the last 2 laps, I was barely touching the ground as I warmed up afterwards.
I completely understand why most people I've talked to about this event think it's nuts to run 95 laps on a track. But in all honesty...it really wasn't boring at all! There really wasn't a low time for me during the run, until the backstretch of the final lap.
As I had mentioned, the speed skating track was empty when we started. Within an hour, it was full of a LOT of really fast skaters. It was honestly amazing to watch them work their way through the corners and "chop chop chop" into the ice down the straits. They arrived at the perfect time and really provided a lift and a distraction. I have no doubt there were future Olympians out there training, and it was amazing to see them in action.
Chris did an amazing job with an event in its first year, and it was a blast to be a part of. If the rest of '09 goes as well as today's run did, it's gonna be a great year!
Photos (more to come) available here. I'm #55 in the Bright Yellow.