As detailed in my previous post, I signed up for last Saturday’s marathon on a complete whim. I’ve never done that before. But I needed to get the mileage in regardless, and the race sounded like a lot of fun.
I drove to Waukesha (the Schuetze Recreation Center served as race headquarters) with my new friend Scott, whom I met through Dailymile. He lives in Madison and occasionally joins our weekly runs around Lake Monona. I didn’t know anyone else doing the race, so I was thankful for Scott’s offer to let me tag along for the ride to Waukesha. We set off from Madison at 6am so we could comfortably arrive in Waukesha with enough time to check-in and get settled before the 8am start time.
In the few days leading up to the race, I seriously contemplated wardrobe options. Pants or shorts? Long sleeves or short sleeves? Layers? Compression socks? It’s always tough to make a call this time of year—certainly the day’s high temps are climbing, but it’s still pretty chilly first thing in the morning. In the end, I opted for a long and short sleeve shirt combo and pants over compression socks. With temperatures in the 30′s and overcast skies throughout, it was a good decision.
A small group of marathoners (just over 100) gathered around the start line shortly before 8am. It was the smallest marathon field I’ve experienced. I’m used to the big city marathons like Chicago, Twin Cities, Boston, and Detroit. Even the much smaller Madison Marathon boasts 2,500 runners. After a lovely rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, we were off. Scott and I ran together and eased into the race very gradually. Anxiously, I watched all of the race leaders quickly peel away. But as hard as it was to hold back, I needed to stay focused on my goals and the idea of using the race for training miles…not an opportunity to compete. Because if I ran it like a race, I’d surely pay for it later. And as I often like to say, eyes on the prize. Which is, in my case, the Ice Age 50 mile race on May 8.
Going into the event, I didn’t think Scott and I would run together—mostly because he’s faster. But we ended up sticking together for the entire marathon. The first ten miles were relatively uneventful—we kept an easy pace as we ran through downtown Waukesha and then along the Glacial Drumlin Trail (which is essentially a flat, asphalt bike path that winds through the countryside). You learn a lot about someone by running 26.2 miles side-by-side. Scott and I talked about his family, religion, upcoming races, our college experiences, etc. The conversation definitely made the miles go by much faster.
After ten miles on the asphalt path, we veered onto the Ice Age Trail. A volunteer directing race traffic gave us an ominous grin and wished us luck. The first mile or two on the trail was relatively flat and grassy. Although it wasn’t too muddy, the ground was still damp and porous. Getting acclimated to a new surface and pace was challenging. All of my energy immediately became fixated on the trail and the obstacles at my feet. There were tree roots and large stones littering the trail. One wrong footfall could mean a disastrous tumble. A few of the climbs were so steep that our pace slowed to a walk. We began to see runners heading back towards the Glacial Drumlin Trail. We knew then that we were getting close to the turnaround point.
Finally we were able to make out the 40′ Lapham Peak Tower through the thick forest branches. But there were hundreds of stairs to climb before we’d reach the top. First was a daunting set of stairs that climbed to ground level. Then we started on the tower—round and round we climbed. When we reached the top (the designtaed half-way point of the race), a volunteer offered us an opportunity to ring a bell. And then we were off again, with only a fleeting opportunity to enjoy the far-reaching scenery below.
The way back was much of the same—three miles of intense trail running followed by ten miles of asphalt. I thought the asphalt would be a welcome change after the trails, but it was again difficult to adjust to a new surface. The asphalt felt hard and unforgiving. By that point, the runners had greatly dispersed. So much so, that Scott and I later observed that we only saw one other competitor until we hit the turn-around point for the half-marathon at mile 6. It would have been pretty lonely had I been out there running alone.
The last few miles of the race were particularly challenging for me personally. My stomach was revolting against the vanilla gel and occasional cups of fruit punch Gatorade I had taken in. I stopped to use the Porta Potty twice. And with Scott’s help and the promise of the finish line in site, I gutted it out for the last few miles. In the end, we finished in three hours and 53 minutes. A very solid marathon effort. I was the 9th female and the 2nd in my age group (of course there were only three people in my age group!). Back in the Schuetze Recreation Center, Scott and I celebrated over cinnamon rolls and beers.
I really enjoyed the Trailbreaker Marathon. It was well-organized, unique, and challenging. And certainly the price was right. Although some people complained about an inadequate number of aid stations and inaccurate mile markers, I didn’t find those to be a problem. Seven aid stations over the course of a marathon (particularly a spring marathon) were plenty for me. I didn’t have my Garmin to track mileage, but didn’t notice (nor would I really care) if the markers were off a bit. It is what it is. If you’re looking for a unique challenge and a small spring marathon, the Trailbreaker Marathon is a great option. It definitely served my purpose—to get out and enjoy the day, try something new, amass mileage, and experience the Ice Age Trail.