Maggie says: For months, I had written off the Madison Half Marathon as a “just for fun” race, a weekend with friends and nothing more. But then I started getting overwhelmed looking all the way to October, when I’ll run the Chicago Marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston. Huge mistake. It was too much to bite off at once. Amie talked me off the ledge and reminded me that this race was important for my training and my confidence. So with about four weeks to go before Madison, I decided to aim for a PR. Simply flipping that switch in my brain completely altered my final weeks of training. I felt confident and capable and determined, and I took those feelings to Wisconsin.
Adrea says: As I stated in my 2014 running resolutions, I wanted to run a new race in a new city and to run it faster than my fall half marathon of 2013. It wasn’t too lofty of a goal, but it did mean running at a pace I hadn’t seen since before I had kids, and it also meant doing it in unfamiliar territory. As the race got closer, I was feeling pretty confident. I had done the work, put in the time, and if I had a good race on race day, I could achieve my goal. Or at least I was mostly sure I could.
Maggie says: Positioned between the 1:40 and 1:50 pace teams, I was left in the dust after the starting horn went off at the capitol. I didn’t adjust my pace, though. “Run your race,” I reminded myself. Only one mile in, I started having chest pains. Suffice it to say, I was NOT used to hills, and up next was a gigantic one. Halfway up, an older woman in a bike helmet held my favorite sign of the day: “This Hill Sucks But You Don’t.” (I think I found a new mantra. Thanks, kind stranger!) Turns out, I’ve encountered hills that sucked far worse (more on that later).
Adrea says: I started the race with my friend, Sara, who had decided last-minute to join us in Madison when our original travel mate had to drop out. Sara was just coming off the Flying Pig Half Marathon, and she was in no mood to jump out at the front like a jackrabbit. This was a huge blessing. “Dude, we’re running sub-9s, we need to slow down,” she said to me about a thousand times as we wound through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve raced in. Both my Garmin and Nike+ agreed with her, but sometimes you need an actual human to remind you that you need to settle into your pace. We had driven the course the night before, so I knew the big hill was coming, and it was easier than I had anticipated. I said, “Click,” and made a camera noise as we canvased the summit, overlooking lush, green trees, a sparkling lake and the rising sun.
UW Madison/Camp Randall
Maggie says: As we wound our way through Wisconsin’s expansive and lovely campus, I started to feel the heat. The sun was beating down, and it was only 7:30 a.m. As we rounded Camp Randall Stadium – I laughed out loud at the Football Phallus – and headed up Monroe Street, I put my head down and focused on my stride and on dodging potholes.
Adrea says: I felt like the sun was in my face for this entire section of the course. I had lost my buddy, Sara, and had settled into my pace. I was feeling fine, but I had to make a conscious effort to enjoy the scenery and take in the sights and sounds of the course. I was already starting to get into my own head, fraught with doubts and worries. Annoyingly, the street bowed just enough that it was really tugging at my left calf and ankle tendon and my dreaded plantar fasciitis foot.
Nakoma Golf Club
Maggie says: We missed the turn up this street when we drove the course the night before, so at first I was thrilled to find myself flanked by a beautiful golf course and gorgeous homes. But the ENTIRE seventh mile was a slight-but-not-that-slight uphill climb, and my legs and lungs were burning. When my Garmin chimed at the 7-mile mark, it was 20 seconds slower than my steady pace of the previous six miles. Though, I was expecting a lot worse, so I chalked it up as a victory.
Adrea says: What Maggie said. This section of the course was really lovely, and it also featured my favorite sign of the race, “PAIN IS TEMPORARY, BUT INTERNET RESULTS ARE FOREVER.” This slow, sneaky climb was a tough one, and I also logged one of my slowest miles of the course. As we started to leave the neighborhood, I said under my breath, “Gawd, when are we going to be done with this damn hill?” Out of nowhere, a girl next to me said, “I don’t KNOW. Maybe NEVER.” It was just the misery-loves-company sentiment I needed, and we both laughed and turned the corner into The Arboretum.
University of Wisconsin Arboretum
Maggie says: Nature! (Goulet.) One thing I loved about this course was the incredible contrast of scenery, going from a city center, to a college campus, to this wooded area that felt like the middle of nowhere. It was (mostly) shady and (mostly) breathtaking, but the one thing it was missing was WATER. And I really needed to eat another Shot Blok as it had been a long, difficult four miles since my last margarita-flavored boost.
Adrea says: So beautiful! So quiet! Just me, a million trees and a couple thousand runners. At one point, a wild turkey ran out onto the road and gobbled at us (I’d like to think he was saying, “Good job, Adrea!”) I kept looking at my Garmin, desperately hoping there would be water at this mile. No? Maybe this mile. DEAR GOD, WHERE WAS THE WATER? The frequent mileage checks also lead to RUNNING MATH. At one point, I was convinced that I was going to miss my goal by a solid 10 minutes. In another breath, I had recalculated and decided I’d be 10 minutes under my goal. Lord, I didn’t know. Stop trying to do MATH, Adrea.
Maggie says: Oh, yay, water! I love water! But what the hell is that?!? I could see runners about a half-mile ahead of me ascending what I estimated to be the steepest hill ever. We’d also missed this part on our course drive. Sonofa. I actually wished I could telepathically warn Adrea and Sara — who were a couple miles behind me — that this beast was waiting for them. I made the executive decision to walk up, knowing it wouldn’t cost me much time and it would save me valuable energy. At the next mile-marker chime of my Garmin, I’d again only lost 20 seconds off my pace and my ego was still intact. Another victory.
Adrea says: The transition out of The Arboretum led us aside a quaint lake. And what was that up ahead? Could it be a mirage? No, no, my friends, it was FINALLY WATER. We hit mile 10, and it made the running math easy. Oh hell, I was going to be THISCLOSE to my goal, but only if I hauled it in for the last 5K. I honestly wasn’t sure I had it in me. I had a little chat with my self doubts and decided, dammit, this was going to happen. Then something else happened. And that something else was a giant hill. We could see it as soon as we came around the last turn out of the park. It was steep, it was big, and it was a complete surprise. We had not driven this section of the course yesterday. That might have been a blessing in disguise. Everyone around me started uttering expletives. I put my head down, and actually ran up half of this hill. When I realized that I wasn’t really moving any faster than the people walking, I decided to conserve my energy because I was going to need it for the home stretch.
Maggie says: A quick bit of running math revealed to me that, barring a total bonk in the last two miles, I was going to PR. I didn’t relax, though, and those last two miles hurt. We had watched the finish of the Twilight 10K Saturday night, so I’d seen the uphill climb to the capitol and the way even the fastest runners looked like they were moving in slow motion. So yeah, I knew it was coming, but that still didn’t make it easier. I saw the race photographer but couldn’t even muster a smile because I needed every ounce of energy to finish strong. And immediately afterward, I needed every ounce of energy to not throw up. I hobbled through the finish area, declining everything but water. Then, I hustled back to the hotel to grab my phone and pee, and hustled back to the finish line just in time to see Adrea (spoiler alert) bust out her goal finish. Damn, I’m good.
Adrea says: Oh man, this was going to be close. I was relying on the accuracy of my Garmin, but I had my doubts. I made a panicked decision to take water at the last stop because I knew the finish line was a climb, and I was preeeeetttttty much spent. It cost me a little bit of time, but that cup of water was going to have to get me through the end of this race. I wanted to throw up, I wanted to die, I just wanted to finish. I turned up that last hill and saw the finish line ahead. I gave it every thing I had left. With one last burst of strength, I sprinted to the finish (Well, at least it felt like a sprint? It probably didn’t look like one.) and smashed the STOP button on my Garmin. I had DONE IT. With less than a minute to spare. I threw my hands up in relief and started bawling.
Maggie says: As I sipped an ice cold post-race beer in the shade with my best friend, both of us bursting with pride from a race well-run, I was once again reminded why I love this sport. This race — and this weekend — was everything I hoped for and more. Not only did I love Madison and the course, the race shirt, expo, medal and event organization were all top-notch (save for a couple water stops, ahem, not being exactly in line with the course map). And as I move on to the next phase of my training, I’ll keep that 1:47:06 half marathon PR in my pocket, an important marker in my quest for Boston.
Adrea says: For me, this hard-wrought race signaled a departure. Since I became pregnant with my first child almost four years ago, I haven’t really cared about my finish time for a race performance. Not like this. When I crossed that finish line, I felt a wave of emotions I hadn’t felt in a long time after a race. Pride. Satisfaction. Accomplishment.
My personal victory aside, I have so many wonderful things to say about this race. It showcased the city of Madison wonderfully. It wasn’t a huge race, so aside from the travel to Wisconsin, the logistics were easy and the participation numbers were ideal. It was never crowded and never lonely on the course. The expo, while small, was pretty great. Plus, after the race, we got free photos — within 24 hours, no less! Huge props to Focal Flame Photography. All in all, I would absolutely run this race again.
As we walked away from the capitol with our ice-cold beers in hand, a handsome firefighter asked us, “What does that taste like?” Maggie and I looked to one another uncertainly, fearing he was going to make us chuck our cups. Instead, he smiled and said, “Does it taste like victory?”
Yes, friendly fireman. Yes. It. Did.