Lake Mills tri--Worn arm warmers
Camp Whitcomb tri--Hit the timing mat at T2 on the first try
Spirit of Race Half Ironman--Never eaten that Clif bar
Bigfoot tri--Never gotten out of bed
I look back on Lakefront and I'm convinced I did everything right. And that's never happened before.
For 48 hours beforehand I religiously monitored my intake. (My best friend got married two nights before the race and I didn't even toast her with champagne, for pete's sake.) The day before the race I swore off fruit, red meat, and peanut butter. Race morning was a very safe piece of very safe toast and a banana.
We arrived downtown with plenty of time to muse about funny things whilst waiting for our ride.
(A quick photo before my cheering section went to go park at Mile 7.)
I arrived in time to warm up a little, stretch generously, and line up at the start. In Chicago, I assumed to run a marathon you just keep running the whole time. Today I had a different plan. I'm attempting the Galloway method of long-distance running, where the athlete forces herself to stop for 1-2 minute walk breaks every 4-10 minutes. This will maintain endurance for the last miles of the race. My plan was to walk one minute every 5 minutes of running.
I carried water, gels, and electrolytes in my fuel belt--the perfect amount mathematically calculated based on a goal finish of 4:45, 15 minutes faster than Chicago 2003.
SIDEBAR: I knew zero about race nutrition in Chicago. I pounded the gels that tasted good and figured it was normal to have....ahem..."GI distress" three times during a five-hour race. I now use a more organic gel that sits better. And I wash them down liberally with water, a trick I learned from my freakishly athletic friend Matt.
Back to Lakefront.
The gun went off. People were buzzing with excitement, chatting nervously with energy. The 4:45 Pace Group nearby had started a ritual where the Pace Group Leader would emit three sharp whistle blasts and the group would echo a resounding RAAAWWWWRRR!!! Someone commented about two miles in that the fresh roadkill near the side of the road "probably won't PR today". And EVERYONE was running. No one was stopping to walk. Well then neither will I, damnit. I make an executive decision to run to the first water station.
Sixteen minutes later I began a regimen of 7 min. running and one min. walking, a compromise that felt safe enough. I put down a gel every 40 minutes and stopped for water at every station. My lobster Erika and our friends Ben and Liz were cheering wildly at Mile 7 and I was still perky enough to greet them with silliness.
Whenever I mentioned I was doing Lakefront, someone invariably mentioned the "mostly downhill" nature of the course, as if this will make the entire run an absolute breeze. At this point, however, I'm thankful for the flatness. My 7/1 regimen is working, but I'm starting to feel the burn. So to speak.
It's been said that the race begins at Mile 20. Most marathon training plans max out with one or two 20-mile long runs, which means after Mile 20 it's all brand new mileage. Mile 20 is usually when the walking, the vomiting, the cramping, and the grimacing grow more and more common. My Mile 20 revelation:
I'm doing it. I'm really doing it. I'm going to hit my goal time, and I feel okay. I'll keep this up until the last 5K, then kick it out. No more gels, no more gatorade. Don't need them.
At Mile 23 I stopped walk breaks and ran through with as steady a pace as I could muster. I was passing people. Spectators were telling me I looked strong, and while they could very well have been lying I said "thanks" anyway because I felt strong. It hurt like hell of course, but I was doing it. The 4:45 Pace Group was completely out of earshot behind me, so I had a good chance of breaking my goal.
The last two miles were lonely. We're running along Lakefront path, sandwiched between a busy two-lane road and Lake Michigan. Very few spectators line the path; they're all waiting at the finish. I knew I'd be done in twenty minutes or so, but darned if that wasn't the longest 20 minutes ever.
I heard the finish line music, turned the corner and saw the crowd. The finish line arc was straight ahead. I gave it everything I had. Final time: 4:42:17. And my legs hadn't hurt like that since...well, Chicago 2003.
But I wouldn't change a thing.