Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bike Path and Mud -- Trailbreaker Marathon Race Report

State #23 (Wisconsin), Marathon #30. (I could've sworn my last marathon was State #23, but no, I checked Marathon Maniacs and this one is definitely 23. Bummer! Still so many states to go!)

I signed up for this race at almost the last possible moment -- online registration closed at midnight March 25, and I clicked "Confirm Registration" at 10:02 p.m. I am in no way in marathon shape. I did a 20-miler in early February, but between that and last weekend's 15, I haven't done anything more than 10, plus lots of cross-training at the gym. It seemed like a waste to not do a marathon in driving distance this weekend, though, since I had Friday off.

Wisconsin is a state that not only had I never run a marathon in, I also had not ever visited. I don't know why; I've lived practically next door to it for two years now, and every guide dog school I've worked for has had grads there. I just never made it until now. The race was in Waukesha, which is a suburb of Milwaukee. It's a 6-hour drive from my house. It didn't look like anything spectacular race-wise; its chief appeal was proximity and cost (only $65 for the marathon, even at the last minute, with lots of cheap motels around).

My mindset going into this race was that I would use it as a supported training run. And it's a good thing that was my plan, because that was totally what it was. It was very small, just over a hundred people in the marathon, and while it had everything it needed, it didn't have one single extra thing. Fine with me -- I'd rather have it affordable and not fancy. If I want fancy I will stick to RNR marathons.

This race was so small it didn't even have an expo. Packet pickup was race morning. It was in the town's rec center, which also meant we had the luxury of hanging out indoors where it was heated and using real bathrooms with no lines. The "heated" was a good thing -- the forecasted low of 27 actually turned out to be 14, and 27 was more like the high. Brrrr. But there was so much sun that I never really felt cold during the whole run, even though I was only wearing one layer.

The first three miles of the race went around town -- along the Fox River and then through the downtown area, which was pretty cool. Then it switched to the Glacial Drum Trail -- which was actually a bike path. A long, long, boring bike path, albeit with some pretty views of farm country. This could've been the Macomb-Orchard Trail here or the American River bike path in Sacramento or really any long, straight bike path anywhere. It was totally flat, straight, and boring. I could usually see one or two runners ahead of me somewhere, but really there were as many runners coming towards me on training runs as there were people in the race. Aside from the boredom, I felt pretty good. I was purposely going slow so I wasn't uncomfortable at all. The colors of this race were blue (the sky), grey (the asphalt), and brown (everything else -- the naked trees, the farm fields, the cattails, the river water). It was a monotonous color scheme that didn't change at all throughout the whole race.

Shortly after the 11-mile mark (8+ miles of bike path), the course crossed the highway onto the Ice Age Trail. The website promised that this part of the race was "extremely rugged". For the first half-mile or so on this trail, I thought that claim was ridiculous. It was a gently rolling forest trail, and my feet were very happy to leave the bike path even if there were a good number of tree roots to watch out for. But then the mud appeared, and stayed. The trail became a giant mud pit where even walking was slightly risky, as evidenced by the number of slide marks in the mud and the number of runners coming the other way with mud smears all over them. I HATE MUD! I walked, and didn't feel bad about it, for two miles to the turn-around.

The turn-around was a lookout tower, reached by a long flight of wooden steps. Then, once we got to the tower, we had to climb six more flights of steps up to the top of it and ring a little bell. This was the highest point in the county and I got a brief impression of a dazzlingly beautiful view of lakes and farm country for what looked like a hundred miles, in every direction, with Milwaukee off in the distance. I'm afraid of heights and the view actually turned my legs to jelly so that when I turned around to come down I had to hold on to the splintery rail with both hands. I still have not decided whether having to climb the tower was cool or annoying. I think a little of both.

In my head I was thinking the run back to the bike path was going to be easy because of the downhill. This was, of course, wrong. It was much more slippery than before, both because gravity was working against my balance and because the trail had now been churned up more by all the runners behind me. What a mess. I walked more. I was never so happy to see boring bike path.

There's not much to say about the rest of the race. Again, on the way back I saw hardly any other runners, at least not runners in the marathon. There were plenty of recreational runners, cyclists, and dog walkers, but zero spectators and at most one other marathon runner in sight, often not even one. I ran most of the way, though not fast.

I was relieved to get back into town for the last mile and a half, but there were still no spectators. There were lots of turns going through the downtown area, but thankfully they were all well-marked and had race volunteers stationed at each one. (This race has gotten negative reviews in the past for confusing, badly-marked course; thankfully they seem to have rectified that problem.) I hadn't looked at my watch the whole time and was shocked to see 4:25 on the finish line clock. I mean, I knew the trail miles had slowed me down but I had felt like I was moving pretty good on the bike path. Later when I checked my watch I saw that I didn't do any miles under 9:00, sort of the opposite of how I felt on my last training run in Detroit when I was BQ pace the whole way while thinking I was running slow. That was kind of disappointing, but at least I didn't feel like puking and I'm not horrendously sore this morning.

Overall this was an okay marathon as long as you aren't expecting scenery, smooth trail, or spectators. I was forewarned of all those things so thought it was acceptable, though certainly not exciting. I sort of wish I'd held out for Milwaukee or Madison, but on the other hand, it would've been a shame to waste a free day off, and now I've got another state done. So it's all good.