Hell Yeah Race Report: Madison Mini-Marathon

(Yeah, yeah. I know, I know. This is overdue, like most of my blogs. Cut me some slack – I started grad school these last two weeks. Better late than never.)

Spoiler Alert: I PR’d.

WWWWWWWHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

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Cliff hanger: Wait till you hear by how much!

A few weeks ago I set what I thought were some pretty ambitious half marathon goals. There were two:

1 – To PR.
2 – To break 1:54.

That second goal seemed like a pretty lofty one – it would mean almost a 2.5 minute improvement from my Indy Mini Marathon finish of 1:56:24. When you run lots of races big improvements are hard to come by. It is one thing to drop that much time when you do one race a year, but to improve so much in just three months – it seemed impossible. My PR’s lately have been marginal – 30 seconds here, 45 there. Two and a half minutes seemed simply audacious.

Because of that, leading up to the race I was NERVOUS. Not just nervous, I’m talking anxious, freak-out, butterflies eating up my stomach kind of nervous. It has been awhile, probably since any of my marathons, that I’ve felt that way. I knew I had set some high expectations and was petrified of not meeting them. (Especially since I got all confident and spilled my guts to the blog-o-sphere. Now I HAVE to meet those goals!)

The one thing that calmed me down a bit was knowing that my main goal wasn’t time: it was about fun. I’ve always maintained that the minute you lose the fun, is when it isn’t worth doing anymore. Yes – PR’ing is fun, but getting in a tizzy worrying about it isn’t. So, I tried my best to chill out.

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I went to packet pickup with my first friend I made in Madison, Adam. We met at a local running group (I’ll write more about that soon – I promise!) and have been running and biking around Madison since then. {After a 13 miler in his neck of the woods, Cambridge, WI, we went to lunch and saw a sign for a triathlon and we even signed up for that!)

Adam and I scored some sweet (illegal) parking right by Union South for packet pickup. I guess there might be parking somewhere around there, but that seemed like a frustrating place to have the expo. The space was great, but anything involving volumes of people on a college campus is always kind of a headache. Aside from the traffic though, the expo itself was well run. They even had this Class of 2013 banner with all the entrants names on it.

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Of course I had to find my name…

Perks of pre-registering!

Perks of pre-registering!

Adam and I parted ways and I headed down to the Mendota Terrace to have a beer with another new friend of Madison, Suzanne. She is friends with one of the Hotdoggers who I drove the Wienermobile with and has gotten me in the gym for lifting sessions and leg day. Friday night was carbo-loading in liquid form though this week.

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Race day morning Adam picked me up and we headed to the start line. My butterflies were still floating around my stomach, so I tried to drown them out with a little pump-up music. Didn’t you know… 6 a.m. is the perfect time for Eye of the Tiger and the Rocky theme song!

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Thoroughly amped up, I parted ways with Adam, who was running with a friend in another corral, and headed out in search of the 1:50 pace group. I thought this would be a pretty solid game plan. My goal was to stick with them as long as I could, which would keep me pumped up while I was with them. When I finally had to fall back there would just be a few more miles requiring self-motivation left. I was initially pretty worried about this though and had kind of wished there was a 1:55 group that was closer to my own ambitions.

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The start line was filled with high-fives, from the other 1:50 hopefuls, to Bucky the Badger as we crossed the start line. I knew it was going to be a good race when he furry paw hit mine (my hand, not my furry paw) and we started the climb up Langdon Street. That’s right, the Madison Mini-Marathon starts with an uphill – so cruel!

We ran up to the Capitol and through the Farmer’s Market. I feel bad for the innocent shoppers who were just trying to pick out their local produce and instead encountered a stampede of local runners. I joked that someone should stop to pick up some cheese curds for us, and was secretly disappointed when no one did.

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The next few miles were through campus and around Camp Randall. Although there were water stops along the way, my favorite aid station was around mile 3. The race ran right in front of my friend Matt’s House and he was awesome enough to wake up at 7:00 a.m. to come out and cheer. As an added bonus, he also had these delicious chocolate-covered cranberries for me for some extra energy. I gobbled some of those up and still had lots of extras, but no one in my pace group was as enthusiastic about snacks on the run. (Isn’t the big cliche in running that “I run to eat”?! Cheese curds, chocolate, I guess I’m the only one who gets hungry along the way…)

This guy is a saint!

This guy is a saint!

I stuck with the 1:50 group all the way up until mile 6.5ish. I honestly knew this was when I would lose them. Miles 5-7 were through the UW Arboretum. On the bright side, it was all shaded. (haha.) But, that came at the price of a whole lot of hills. As we passed the half-way mark I lead the people who I was running with in a “YEE-HAW” and I think I got at least 10 others to join me in the rally cry. I love a little spirit!

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Sticking with the 1:50 group as long as I did, I felt pretty good. I had created a nice buffer for my PR and still had a lot in me. That being said, the last half was when that self-motivation came in. Although the hills petered out, they still continued to speckle the last half of the course. Luckily, my sister and her new husband also came out to cheer me on.

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My one other critique of the Madison Mini-Marathon was that there was no Gu provided along the course. This just happened to be the ONE race I didn’t stash one in the good ‘ole sports bra for a just-in-case pick-me-up. I wish I had, because around mile 10 I was starting to fatigue a bit. Thankfully, a fun-spirited bunch was handing out bacon strips right around then.

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If you haven’t noticed, my mantra at races is if food is offered, you have to take it! (I AM a run-to-eat gal and am not embarrassed to admit it!)

The last three miles were definitely a challenge, but with a badass PR on the horizon I did my best to finish it strong. Luckily, the spectators the last mile were awesome and the final stretch with Bucky back at the finish were awesome!

I ended up high-fiving Bucky right as I came in and crossed the finish at 1:51:36. ONE FIFTY ONE!!!

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THAT’S AN ALMOST FIVE MINUTE P.R.! Yeah, I’m more than a little bit excited about it. Looking back, I think it had almost entirely to do with mental commitment, more than physical training. I finally just went out there for a race and didn’t let me own expectations confine my performance. (I think anyway; who knows, maybe I could be running 1:45s all along!)

This medal is also a bottle opener! You know you're running in Wisconsin when....

This medal is also a bottle opener! You know you’re running in Wisconsin when….

Overall – great race, great crowd, amazing experience!

Grateful for Miles – 20 Miles, 20 Things to be Grateful For

I have decided to start a program I am dubbing the Grateful for Miles challenge. You can read more about the origins here but essentially the idea is to write down one thing for which I am grateful for every mile that I run. This will probably turn into a weekly post (I’ll be doing them daily, but in a personal journal) but to kick-start the idea I am jumping in today, with twenty for my big twenty miler this week.

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I am grateful for:

Running Related:
1. The amazing pace I held today for 20 miles, which would translate to a sub 4:00 marathon.
2. That people were high-fiving left and right on the trail today.
3. Not having to stop at (almost) any intersections.
4. That my new friend Matt left me a tasty goodie bag of cold (!!) water, a banana and chocolate cranberries. (He lives right on my route and when I told him of my plans yesterday he said he would put out some treats. What a pal.)
5. No chafing!
6. A downhill second half.
7. Remembering to wear sunscreen. (I added this one just to make my mom proud.)

Life Related:
8. A new research project that I am excited to work on.
9. The incredible egg burrito wrap I made post-run.
10. The Madison Public Library and all the amazing books I’ve been enjoying this summer.
11. My friend Zahra coming back to the U.S. next week and her new adventures.
12. That my mom called from Turkey right as I finished my run and I got to share my adventures with her.
13. That my dad loves me enough to nag me when I screw stuff up.
14. Having a sister who lives nearby now.
15. Air conditioning.
16. Not having to go grocery shopping OR do laundry for a few more days.
17. That I remember at least some of my accounting class so studying for this grad school proficiency exam isn’t too terrible.
18. Skinny Taste – that website is amazing.
19. Having some pre-made meals in the fridge so I don’t have to move too much today.
20. This totally lazy afternoon.

Some of these are kind of ridiculous, like the egg burrito, and some are more serious, but I think we can be thankful for things big and small. (The egg burrito was a pretty big thing, by the way.)

Join in for Grateful for Miles Monday this week!

Grateful for Miles – Gratitude Challenge

Today I had a totally badass run.

I know, not the most eloquent way to put it.

This weekend was scheduled to be my 19-miler to prepare for the Quad Cities Marathon next month. Being your typical Type-A runner, with lofty goals, I decided why would I wimp out at 19 – might as well go for the big 20. (That was a little dumb, given that I had just done a 17-miler on Tuesday, but who needs recovery anyway?!)

Now let me tell you about this run.

I started out strong, clocking an 8:54 mile, which I initially thought was foolishly fast. As miles two and three passed and I continued to keep the pace I thought, OK – let’s get to mile five and reevaluate then. If anything, it will help lower my overall pace as I slack off toward the end, I thought. At mile five I focused on keeping sub 9:10 miles, setting the next benchmark of the 10 mile point.

Well, lucky for me, the first 10 miles were all uphill. No seriously, the whole first half was a gradual uphill slope. OK, so what’s my excuse to not keep the pace, or exceed it, during the second half?

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Now I can be criminal of zoning out on these long runs, but today I was totally in-tune with every movement and every breath. (Ok – I hate it when people say that. However, I was definitely in a zen state.)

But what I noticed more than anything was how grateful I was to even be out there on this 20 mile run. Each passing mile, attaining one more micro-goal, I felt so blessed. I was running, my body is strong, my surroundings are beautiful, and I am on the doorstep of an amazing new opportunity with grad school.

So as each mile ticked away, my pace still holding strong, I thought of something new to be grateful for.

I never eased off and I finished my run as strong as I started. 3:00:53 at a 9:02 pace. SO close to breaking 3:00. SO close to breaking the 9:00 pace. (But hey – I did average a sub 4:00 marathon pace for 20 miles, and that is pretty damn impressive if I say so myself.)

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Maybe I’m especially effected by endorphins, but I always get a serious runner’s high. Always. ALWAYS. Like literally every time I run.

Afterwards, while resting in bed (for four hours) I kept thinking about all that gratitude. I just finished the book “The Year of Living Biblically” where the author A.J. Jacobs tries to follow all the rules in the bible, literally.

YOLB

I’m not religious and I honestly didn’t think the book was actually that good. But, he did talk about being thankful and how he became quite a bit more thankful the more he was actively praying about it. I think that consciousness is a pretty good thing.

So I’ve decided to start my own challenge that I’m going to call being Grateful for Miles. I’ll only post once a week, probably Mondays, but each day I plan on writing down what I’m grateful for – one entry for each mile I run that day. Some days there will be just a few, other days more or even a lot, and some days there will be none. I think challenges are good things, but breaks are even better, so rest days from running will serve as rest days for this challenge as well.

I put a lot of stock in being cognizant of all the good fortune and positivity in my life. I’m looking forward to this personal goal, and sharing it with you all as well.

I invite you to join me on Monday with your own Grateful for Miles Monday post!

Goals for Getting Faster – Making it Happen!

You know how on The Biggest Loser the contestants just get to work out all of the time? (Ok, maybe “get to” is the wrong word.) Well that is how my summer has been, except that I enjoy 100% of it. Now, I haven’t lost any weight because I’ve offset all my activity with avocados, but I have had an amazing time getting my heart rate up and endorphins flowing!

I run to eat avocado on everything. That and to eat frozen yogurt daily.

I run to eat avocado on everything. That and to eat frozen yogurt daily.

In Madison there is no reason not to be active every day. There are bike paths EVERYWHERE, I am a college student again and have access to a lap pool, and there are tons of opportunities for free workout activities – from yoga to walks in the arboretum.

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Since I have been on FUNemployment for the last six weeks I’ve decided to stay busy bettering my mind and body as much as possible. As I mentioned, I’ve made the move from strictly running to branching out a little more – including biking, swimming, yoga, and also as of recently – weight lifting.

And let me tell you something – it is paying off, big time.

I am getting stronger.

Just had this mind-blowingly kick ass run today! Maybe it was the pre-run coffee or the tunes, but whatever it was it worked!

Just had this mind-blowingly kick ass run today! Maybe it was the pre-run coffee or the tunes, but whatever it was it worked!

I’m getting faster. 

Best run of my life. I didn't even know this was possible.

Best run of my life. I didn’t even know this was possible.

Oh yeah, and I’m getting tanner: BONUS!

And I love it! I love having helmet hair or smelling faintly of chlorine. I love wanting to cry at the sight of stairs after leg day in the gym. (Ok, OK – I’ve done ONE leg day. I’m far from a regular yet.)

I’ve been noticing that my pace is getting quite a bit faster with running. I am not sure if the cross training is to attribute, or I am pushing myself mentally more. Either way, there are no excuses not to keep it up.

So I’m setting some goals.

Next weekend I am doing the Madison Mini-Marathon. My goal is to PR, which I don’t think should be too difficult given the success of my recent runs. My PR pace right now is 8:49/mi. I’d love to get into the 1:53’s with my half marathon time.

  • Goal #1 is to PR
  • Goal #2 is to break 1:54.

That’s a huge jump from the 1:56ish I ran at the Indy Mini-Marathon in May.

My next goal is for the Quad Cities Marathon in September. The last marathon I ran was the Mississippi Blues Marathon way back in January. (Has it been eight months already?!) but my PR was at the Marine Corps Marathon in October where I ran a 4:13:48 or a pace of 9:40/mi.

  • Goal #1 is to PR
  • Goal #2 is to break 4:10 – or roughly a 9:30 min/mi
  • Goal #3 is to break 4:00????!! (Probably wishful thinking for Quad Cities, but I’m writing it down anyway.)

I think goals 1 & 2 are definitely do-able. Again, it is going to be more mental strength than physical strength that will push me toward achieving any of them. I know I can physically handle it – I just need to not whimp out and psych myself out.

I am anxious to see what my workout life is going to be like when grad school starts (less than two weeks away) but until then it’s two-a-day workouts galore!

What has helped your pace improve?
Have you ever had a surprise kick-ass run?
Do you have any goals for the fall season?