A page from my weekend training log: Distance: 15 miles, Time: 1:51:38, Comment: Great run, felt strong. Best run of this training cycle.
That’s the shorthand. Here’s the deal: if you’ve been reading up to this point, you know I ran the Lakefront Milwaukee Marathon in 2011 and came up just short of my goal of breaking 3 hours in the marathon (26.2 distance if you haven’t been following). My time was 28 seconds over, officially 3:00:27. That’s three hours and 27 seconds. I had run well, felt in control and then a hill that was longer than I remembered slowed me between miles 22 and 23 and then a false flat between 24-25 ended sadly what should have been a jubilee.
On Sunday May 27, I returned to Milwaukee and ran 15 miles, the first 7.5 miles of which covered the section of the course that did me in last year. The remaining 7.5 miles was just retracing my steps back to my car, but also included a wicked hill the ascent of which caused me to clap my hands like a little league first base coach expressing joy at a player legging out an infield single.
I ran the first few miles at a mostly modest pace as I warmed up my legs and got used to the unseasonalbly low morning temps. Turns out the Lake Michigan breezes would hold serve over Milwaukee’s east side all weekend.
About thirty minutes into my run, I spotted a runner who was about a half mile ahead of me. Without intending to, I found myself picking up the pace. I shortened my stride, increased my turnover and put myself in full on chase mode. While this wasn’t part of the plan of rerunning a difficult section for scouting purposes (I will return to MKE to run the 2012 edition of the marathon on October 7), it did get me moving and let me know what sort of runner I might be that day.
As the run continued, the thing I noticed, and the thing that will lead me to have to do several runs on the same section of the course, is how many miles are involved (not in the marathon, I sort of get that part), but in the section that gave me difficulty. I had remembered the 22-23 hill and the 24-25 flat section plus breeze that ultimately undid me, but I didn’t recall the number of rollers (short ups and downs) that all the miles involved at that point in the course.
Once I got moving to chase down that runner, I used my speed to not only overtake him, but, also to leave him in my wake. After I passed him, I noticed he was on my right shoulder, hanging on and keying off my pace. For absolutely no good reason (I wasn’t even 6 miles into my run at that point), I pressed, picking up the pace and opening up the distance between us. I kept up what by now had become a torrid pace and didn’t look back for several minutes. By then, he was long gone.
Back to 21-22: My recollection from last October was that the hill was short and steep and that it pushed my split over 7 minutes for the first time since Mile 3 of the entire marathon. Not so. It turns out that the hill that led to my discontent was really a mile and a half false flat that ends in a little climb and then gives way to another roller. That is to say visually it looks flat, but in practice it has much more climbing than descending. Put simply, it feels hilly and is taxing. You can train for it. You can plan for it (that was the point of Sunday’s run). But, and this is the thing, you can’t underestimate it. And now I won’t. I ran through this section with a new appreciation for what it will take. Having said that, I plan to run this section again before October just to lock into my mind what it will take from me to cruise through this section.
The next challenge was the mile between 24 and 25. Three quarters of mile 24 is straight downhill. If you were on a bike, you wouldn’t pedal. You would just coast and you would pick up speed — lots of it. Running this section requires opening your stride and letting gravity pull you down the hill. That was no problem on Sunday, but is far trickier with 23 miles already on your legs in the marathon. I managed a 6:48 mile on Mile 24 last October and was pretty happy with it as my watch said 2:44 and change at that point. Breaking 3 hours was still possible with 2.2 miles to go. Mile 25 is a whole different animal and I was reminded of that on Sunday. Coming down the hill at full speed (more or less), your body thinks it will be doing downhill running for awhile. I was able to find the spot where the Mile 24 marker was (though it wasn’t there Sunday, I could just tell) because of the transition from downhill to flat to slightly uphill. In October, this was coupled by a breeze off the Lake that felt like a hand pushing me back. On Sunday, I felt that happening again, and I dug in to increase my pace and try to keep things moving along.
Because of the transition described above, the mile between 24 and 25 (and this post by now) feels very long. It was hard Sunday to keep focus through this mile and I recall it was far more difficult back in October.
So that’s more or less it. The run back north involved quite a bit of hill climbing and required some focus to stay with it. The temperature was climbing and I was tired, but I still felt great and was excited to have run the offending section of the course again. I figure I will hit it at least two more times before October so I can avoid surprises on race day.