Madison Mini Marathon Race Recap

So…something important happened during this race.  I reached 1,000 miles for the year!  Last year, I hit that milestone in November.  Reaching it in the middle of August is a pretty big step up.

That is the only good thing that happened during this race.  This is a long one.  Grab a beverage.

Let me back up and start from the beginning.  I headed down to Madison Friday afternoon when Tim got home from work.  The expo was being held at Union South in Madison.  It was also move-in weekend at the University of Wisconsin.  There was a ton of traffic.  There were a lot of people everywhere.  It was a mess. 

I ended up parking in the ramp at Union South.  This proved to be a horrible mistake.  As soon as I pulled into the ramp, I noticed that the cars weren’t moving.  Cars were trying to get out and they were just sitting there.  After about 10-15 minutes, I was able to crawl my way to a parking spot.  I hopped out of the car and made my way to the expo.  Packet pick up was a breeze.  I took a cursory glance at the exhibits, but I was in a hurry because I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get out of the parking ramp.

  I did take a minute to find my name on the banner of all the runners.

I was right to be worried.  Once I got back to my car, I waited until some nice person let me back out of the spot.  Then, I sat.  And waited.  Every few minutes, we would inch forward a bit.  Sometimes, we would get lucky and move a whole car length.  Twice, I actually shut off my car and just sat there.  We just weren’t moving.  And the exhaust fumes were terrible.  I was getting a really bad headache.  And, because I was trapped in the parking garage, there was no cell service, so I couldn’t let my aunt know that I was running late.

Slowly, I made my way through the parking garage and up to the street level.  When I finally got to the gate where I could pay and get out, I discovered that was the problem.  I put my ticket in and swiped my credit card.  Nothing happened.  I couldn’t really do anything after that because the ticket was still inside the machine.  There was a button that intercomm-ed to someone, so I pushed it and told him what happened.  He said that he would open the gate for me.  The gate then ‘bounced’ up about 4 or 5 inches and came back down. 

I waited, assuming that he would try again.  Nothing happened. 

I pushed the button.  No one said anything.  I waited. 

I pushed the button again.  I could hear people talking in the background.  I started talking into the speaker letting the guy know that I was still stuck here. 

He said ‘the gate isn’t working properly.’  Really?  I hadn’t noticed!

Finally, the gate went up and I slammed on the gas to get out of there! 

   I really liked that they put the emergency contact name and phone number right on the front of the bib.  I think this is a great way to save time in an emergency.  They wouldn’t need to scan the bib or hope that the runner filled out the info on the back (and that it didn’t sweat off).

   I really like the design of the shirt, but the neck line is weird.  It is really wide and looks almost stretched out.  It is also much more RED than this photo shows.

After the frustrating experience of the expo parking nightmare, I was more than ready to head over to my aunt’s house.  She had chosen to go out to Uno’s for dinner.  Excellent choice. Even though the parking lot was rather full, we were able to get a table right away.  I had a delicious grilled veggie wrap with some brown rice and a pickle.

We headed back to her house, and I went to bed rather early.  But, I didn’t fall asleep.  I had a horrible time getting any sleep.  It was one of those nights when you toss and turn and finally fall asleep, only to wake up and check the clock to see that 17 whole minutes have passed since the last time you looked.  All in all, I think I got about 4 hours of off-and-on sleep.

I got up a little before 5:00 and got ready to head out.  I warmed up my typical breakfast of white rice with cinnamon and sugar and decided that I would eat it in the car on the way to the race.

After the crazy traffic/parking hassle the night before, I wanted to make sure that I gave myself plenty of time to get to the parking garage and to the start line.  I left around 5:30 and was parked at my favorite place (Lake St. and State St.) by 6:00.  I made sure I had my bib pinned and grabbed my ipod and walked to the starting area.  First things first: porta potty!  Very short line.  Nice.

Next, I had to try to figure out how to change my starting corral.  I was in Corral H, but I wanted to run with the 1:50 pace group.  I asked a couple of the volunteers where I should go.  They didn’t know.  They just told me to line up in whatever corral I wanted to.

I tried going into the Union to see if there were any race officials I could find.  There were some people at the info desk and I asked them where I should go to find a race official.  The nice young man asked me what I needed to find out.  He got on his walkie talkie and asked around to find out exactly where I needed to go to get my corral changed.  Very nice young man.  Thank you.

I went back outside and found the timing tent.  There was one white guy with an afro sitting in this tent with about 10 laptops.  He had headphones on.  I waited patiently for him to finish whatever he was doing.  I have no idea what he was doing.  Eventually, he noticed that I was standing there.  He dug through a box and came out with a sticker for me to put on my bib to change my corral.  Crisis averted.  However, going through all of that seriously dug into my second-porta-potty time.

I snuck into one of the buildings there and found a bathroom with a much shorter line.  I finished my pit stop and made my way to find the 1:50 pace group.

My friend, Tiff, found me with the pace group.  She was going to run the first 5K with me.  She is much faster than me, but it was really nice to have her nearby at the beginning of the race.

The weather was warm at the start.  It was probably in the mid 60’s when we started and it warmed up pretty quickly.  I was dumping water on myself at every water station from the halfway point to the finish.  The organizers had a flag system in place to let runners know the race conditions.  I finished under ‘green’ conditions, but I heard the MC announce shortly after that they were switching to ‘yellow’ conditions because of how warm it had gotten.

My plan for the race was to just stick with the pacers.  They make life easy.  I don’t have to think.  Just stay next to the guys in the neon singlets holding the 1:50 sign.

The course was really crowded at the beginning.  This is to be expected at these larger events.  There were over 6000 people between the half marathon and the 5K.

The course winds through Madison, giving you a ‘tour’ of some of the more interesting sights.  But, State Street isn’t very wide and after that we run on the bike path for a while.  It took a long time for the congestion to clear out.  As a matter of fact, I missed the 5 Mile timing mat because it was still so crowded.

I actually felt ok as the race started.  The first couple miles had me right on pace with my 1:49 goal time.  I was just hanging out with the pacers.  As we neared the Arboretum, I could feel that my legs were starting to get heavy.  By the 5 mile mark, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to hit my goal time.

I blame part of this on the Arboretum.  I just don’t understand everyone’s love of running through the Arb.  I really don’t like it.  It seems that most races in Madison go through the Arb.  (I can only assume that it is easier to get permits to close the road there, than it is to close other roads in the city.)  Psychologically, the Arb kills me every time.  It is dark (well…darker, because it is tree lined and shady), there are no spectators (the road is closed, so no one can get in), there is no breeze (because it is tree lined) and parts of it smell like dead fish.  Oh, and there are a couple small-ish hills.  If I were a race director in Madison, I would map out a course that doesn’t run through the Arboretum and advertise that! 

Anyway, by about mile 6 (in the Arb), I could see that the pacers were pulling away from me.  The small-ish hills started seeming much more like mountains.  My pace on the hills slowed waaaaay down.

By mile 8-9, I knew that my PR attempt (1:52) wasn’t going to happen.

By mile 11, I just wanted to somehow stay ahead of the 2:00 pace group.

I managed to finish in 1:56:29.  I didn’t come close to the PR I wanted.  I didn’t reach my A Goal, or my B Goal, or my C Goal. 

     It is easy to tell by my splits, that my legs just couldn’t keep up after the first 6 miles.    As you can see, I missed the timing mat at 5 miles.  I looked at my watch, though and I was there at 42 minutes and change.  Still on target at that point.  What is most disappointing about that group of numbers is how far my rank fell from the 10 mile mat to the last 5K.  More than 300 people passed me. Sad smile

  The elevation chart shows a couple hills, but they were all short and shouldn’t have bothered me as much as they did.

Yes, I am as miserable as I look.

I am referring to this race as a learning experience.  I learned a lot.  And I’m still reviewing certain things in my mind.  When I initially finished this race, I was really disappointed.  Let’s be honest, I was really disappointed after the first 6 miles when my wonderful pacers were escaping from view.

I have never wanted to quit a race more than I wanted to quit this race.  I actually gave in and walked a bit.  (I know that walking isn’t a sin.  I have walked in plenty of races.  In my last marathon, it was part of my race day plan.  It just wasn’t part of the plan for this race.)  I walked up one of the hills.  I walked a couple of the water stations.  I wanted to walk a lot more.  I wanted to quit.  I wanted to just give up.  This was the most difficult psychological race I have run.  Every physical part of my body wanted to sit down on the side of the road.  And most of my mental being wanted to do the same. 

But, there was that small part of me that realized I couldn’t give up.  I thought about what I would be teaching my kids.  Did I want them to think that it is okay to quit if things get hard?  If they don’t go the way you want them to?  If you know you aren’t going to reach your goal?  Of course not.  I want them to know the importance of pushing through when all you want to do is give up.  So, I just kept going.  Even though I hated it.

I did take full advantage of the pity party I was having, though.  I started thinking about the goals I have for the rest of this year and going forward.  I immediately decided that my goals were ridiculous.  That there was no way I was going to reach my goal of 13 half marathons this year.  I was probably never going to run a sub-4:00 marathon.  The idea of ever running an ultra marathon was insane.   Because, obviously, if I wasn’t going to achieve the goal I had set for that day, all my other goals were completely unachievable as well.  That’s just logical, right?

This is the thinking that I am currently struggling with: I still want to run a half marathon in 1:49.  But, I am wondering if it is an unrealistic goal.  On one hand, I doubt whether or not I have the speed to do it.  On the other hand, I probably would have performed better if I would have taken a taper period leading up to this race (duh!). 

So I have re-evaluated my training plan for the next couple of weeks. I am going to take a couple extra rest days.  I may actually go out and ride my bike once or twice.  I’m going to let my body relax and recover and then see how I want to approach the rest of the year.


*Lots of aid stations.  Aid stations were well marked (Gatorade and water) and there was a sign before each aid station letting you know it was coming.  The aid stations were crowded and I think that they could probably be better if they were on both sides of the road, or if they were extended a bit to ease the congestion.

*Post race food.  Lots of great options: granola bars, bananas, chocolate milk, cookies, popcorn, Gatorade.  I had so much stuff, I wish I had had a bag to put it in.

*Nice medal.  It is hard to tell from the photo, but it doubles as a bottle opener!  That is such a Wisconsin thing.                    

*Close proximity to the Farmer’s Market!  After my crappy race, I felt the need to drown my sorrows by sampling every cheese vendor around the Capitol Square.  And I got some sweet corn and some other good stuff.

*Enthusiastic fans.  (except in the Arboretum, but I’ve covered that)  Madison knows how to support runners.  There were a ton of great signs.  A couple of my favorites: “You think this is hard? I’m growing out my bangs.  That is hard!” and “Motivational Sign.”


*Not enough misting stations.  It was warm.  The website said that there would be approximately 5 misting stations in the last half of the race.  I counted two.  I definitely could have used more.  I was pouring water over my back at every aid station on the last half of the course…and I did see a runner down in the last mile.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there were others who couldn’t handle the heat.

*Too crowded.  The course is very congested, especially at the beginning.  Yet, there were cones along the center of the road to try to keep the runners on one side.  These cones ended up being a bit dangerous.  I saw one guy trip over one and I had to side step one at one point.  Just get rid of the cones.

*The Arboretum.  I just don’t like it.

    I’m smiling, but I’m not really happy.

Overall Grade: B+

I would recommend this race to others.  The vibe is great.  The city of Madison knows how to put on a race.  I think there are a couple things that could be improved, but most of them are easy to do.  I’m sure I’ll do this race again at some point.  I just need to let the bad taste in my mouth resolve after this one.  And I need to forget how much I dislike the Arboretum.


6 thoughts on “Madison Mini Marathon Race Recap

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  5. Those mental rehashings are truly significant, Heather…thanks for your transparency. And, ultimately, one of the most beneficial of all the benefits of distance running.

    Some days the pace is there…some days it isn’t. Don’t underestimate the effect of the temperatures, either.

    I’d suggest you also not give up on the 1:50 HM target. Reflect on this a bit, look for some fall or spring races with temps in the 40 and see if you can’t still give it a go.

    But don’t try it through the Arboretum!!!!

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