The Reign of the Cheese Queens – Wisconsin Marathon Race Report

I don’t know why I expect my race weekends to be anything short of ridiculous, because they pretty much always are. The Wisconsin Marathon/Kalamazoo Marathon double weekend started early Friday morning with Amanda and I flying to Chicago and meeting Kate about 8:30 AM. At the rental car desk, the first fail of the weekend occurred when I tried to pay using my credit card and they wouldn’t let me, because for some reason although the front of my credit card says my legal name, it still says my married name when you swipe it, and for some reason they insist that the swiped name match your license, so I got to pay with my debit card instead. I should have known this was an omen for a weekend full of absurd happenings.

The day started with a trip to the famous “Bean” in Chicago’s Millennium Park, which Amanda had never seen. I got to experience that joy of driving downtown in a major city, and we eventually found parking to the tune of $20 an hour – totally reasonable, obviously. The weather was 40 degrees and raining, and guess who was wearing flip flops? If you guessed “all of Team T-Rex,” you’d be correct, because we failed to account for the fact that we would be spending a few hours walking around downtown. Not our best move. We were able to take a pretty spectacular jumping picture in front of the Bean, though!

20130503_091128-1024x768-1-2 Four picture attempts later, success!

After freezing to death in front of the Bean, we warmed up in Starbucks for a bit and then decided to head to the North Face store to kill some time. We figured they might have some good sales on their remaining winter stuff, and since we had clearly dressed inappropriately, we could all benefit from jackets. After more terrifying driving in downtown Chicago – which, by the way, is a city that apparently does not find lane lines necessary – we finally found what may or may not have been a parking spot and took a chance to head into the store, only to be informed that that location has only 2 sales a year, and May is not one of those times. Oh well! Next on the agenda was lunch with the always entertaining Otter, so we headed over to the Goose Island brew pub near Wrigley Field.

20130503_122502-e1367941577277-1024x768-1-2 Blurry, but we tried.

Apparently no one in Chicago actually works during baseball season because the bar was packed with people getting ready to go to the Cubs game at 1 pm. Most teams couldn’t get that many people to go to their games on a Saturday night when there’s nothing else to do! It was pretty impressive, and kind of scary how many people were everywhere. I wish we had had time to go to the game, but alas, the life of a traveling marathon runner is too hectic.

20130503_123750-1024x768-1-2 Had to get a photo in front of Wrigley, obviously.

So, the Wisconsin Marathon is billed as America’s “Cheesiest” Marathon because it is cheese-themed. Amanda decided that we really really needed to wear some type of cheese apparel during the race in honor of the theme. She wanted us to wear Cheeseheads like the people in Green Bay wear to football games, which I was obviously adamantly opposed to, and our other option was wearing foam cheese crowns. But again, Amanda very rarely asks for much and she puts up with my crap all the time, so I was willing to consider some type of cheese apparel as an option. I did not know that this would involve us driving all over the state of Wisconsin in an attempt to find said apparel. The first stop was to Mars’ Cheese Castle, which is literally a castle from which they sell cheese and cheese-themed items. We had high hopes for this place.

20130503_135800-1024x768-1-2 This is a real place.

Tragically, Mars’ Cheese Castle did not sell the cheese crowns, and we determined that the cheese heads themselves would be too big and bounce around too much to run in. This did not stop us from sampling every cheese they sold in the place, plus cheese curds. The sell cheese that is shaped like different things there, including cheese shaped like a mug of beer. It was pretty awesome, and I could have spent a ton of money in there, but I knew that if I did, I would be the only one in my house eating hundreds of dollars worth of cheese, so I refrained. Meanwhile, Kate bought $60 worth of cheese.

393166_10151460157624143_84010240_n-24 I know my eyes are closed, but you get the point.

We then tried to find cheese crowns at another shop, but again had no luck, so we decided to just go to the race expo and hope (or hope not, if you’re me) that they would be selling some type of cheese paraphernalia. As it turns out, it was Amanda’s lucky day, because they were selling cheese crowns for only $10, so guess who got to buy one? Hooray. After some crazy running around trying to get my friend Denis registered for the race and pick up packets for some other runners, we hit the Maniacs dinner at the local Olive Garden, which is apparently the only Italian restaurant in Kenosha, because that place was packed. We headed to sleep super early (we’re talking like 8:30) in preparation for an early wake up call the next morning, because we’re cool like that.

So race morning dawned and it was pretty freaking freezing outside. The start line was very close to Lake Michigan, so wind coming off the lake was intense and it was cold anyway. We literally huddled together for warmth. Where were we huddling? Oh, you know, the special Cheese Corral that they had at the front of the pack for people that were wearing cheese apparel. I thought this was kind of funny because it was literally right next to the area where the elite runners start. Because people who are wearing foam cheese crowns and elite athletes are definitely running the same pace, obviously.

255701_10151443316988004_322909605_n-24 Just hanging out in the cheese corral with another guy in a cheese crown. No big deal.

The race started and I felt terrible almost immediately. From pretty much mile 2 on, I was miserable. It was so weird – my legs were tight and heavy, my back hurt, I was incredibly nauseous – usually that stuff doesn’t happen until much later in the race. I braced myself for the potential of a long day, although Amanda and I had a goal to finish in under 5 hours, as commanded by our coach. The course ran along Lake Michigan for much of the race, which was both a blessing and a curse – it was really pretty, but also windy, and the roads were terrible. It was almost like running on a trail because there were so many bumps and potholes that you really had to watch where you put your feet. There were some pretty views, though, and the temperature was good for running, even if we were wearing cheese crowns. With Kate coming off of an injury, Amanda and I headed off at our own pace and ended up finding JC a couple of miles into the race, dressed in his Team T-Rex shirt, of course.

p1010087-1024x768-1-2 I just noticed that our shoe colors are pretty aggressive.

The course has several out and back sections, which was great for seeing our friends and did sort of make the time go by faster, but I just felt so crappy. We were running along at a good pace, though, so I tried to just hang on. Around mile 9, JC informed us that it was time for him to go since he needed to catch a flight to Chicago, so he took off. Despite running around a 10 minute pace with us for the first 9 miles, he ended up finishing in under 4 hours. Ridiculous! As we approached mile 12, where the half split from the full, I told Amanda I was thinking about just doing the half. I couldn’t really imagine running another 14 miles feeling so crappy, and I honestly didn’t want to. As I thought about what I wanted to do, I realized that I have run plenty of races feeling terrible, and this one is no different. We were still running 10 minute pace, so it’s not like we were embarrassing ourselves out there, and feeling bad isn’t a good excuse to quit. So I didn’t. We hit the halfway point at exactly 10 minute miles, but at mile 14, I had to stop and walk for a little bit. I felt so nauseous and awful. We walked for a few minutes, I whined, and then we started running again. Every time we ran past a spectator (which didn’t really happen all that often), people yelled “GO CHEESE QUEENS!” so that was kind of entertaining. They really appreciated the crowns, which we were still wearing. I have to say, the crown didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, but maybe that’s because everything else was bothering me. Either way, you win this round, Amanda.

420635_10151460156604143_1895045893_n-24 Not mile 15, but here’s a random shot of the course for those who care about such things.

Around mile 15, I started making goals to help myself get through each segment of the race. I told Amanda I wanted to get to mile 20 in 3:30, because I knew we would definitely finish under 5 hours if we did that, and it would be a 10:30 pace. There were some strange sections on gravel roads, but our pace didn’t slow down significantly. We saw Kate about 1.5 miles behind us when we were just past mile 19, and she was doing awesome! We got to mile 20 well ahead of our goal, and so I made goals to get us to mile 22 in the same pace. Then mile 24. It was windy and cold in the final few miles, and as much as I wanted to just quit and walk the whole rest of the way, I knew we were on pace for a PR for Amanda, and I was determined not to ruin that for her. Obviously she could have continued to run on by herself, but I wanted to be there for finish with her. Therefore, I kept going, hating every single step along the way. I haven’t been in a bad mood like that during a race for quite awhile, but I was so angry and frustrated and exhausted. I didn’t even want spectators to cheer us on, because I felt like I was being drained of energy every time I acknowledged them. One Maniac tried to talk to us around mile 24, bless his heart, and I was basically like “We’re on PR pace and I can’t talk right now.” Oops.  I made up for it by giving him some Aquaphor later at the hotel, but I still felt bad. Sorry for the hate spiral, Wisconsin.

mile15-26 See how happy I look? It’s because I’m SO HAPPY.

As we approached the finish line, a PR seemed out of reach for me, but it was definitely going to happen for Amanda. My PR is 4:28:02, and I just didn’t see how it would be possible to finish in 4:27 because I literally could not run any faster. I figured it would be more like 4:29 or 4:30. I stopped looking at my watch and pushed as much as I could during the final stretch, and we crossed the finish line in something like 4:28:40. I couldn’t believe how close we were to a PR and I was so excited that we ran under 4:30! Kind of crushed that sub-5 goal, right? Amanda was afraid I would be mad that I had come so close to a PR and not gotten one, but I honestly don’t feel like I could have run one second faster, so I was really happy with the effort. Besides, I’m choosing to blame the cheese crowns (which we wore the entire race, by the way) for those lost 39 seconds, since they are hardly aerodynamic, right? Right. Also, this race was a huge confidence booster for me. I haven’t run under 4:30 since December 2011, and I came really close to PRing even though I felt awful. It is exciting to think about how I could do if I was feeling good! Clearly, the training program we’re doing is working, so I’m excited to see where it goes.

finish-1-4 Hands over our hearts for Boston.

Kate ended up finishing in under 5 hours too, which is amazing since homegirl literally only has one working tendon right now. That being said, she was in pretty bad shape immediately after crossing the finish line, so I convinced the medical staff to give us a ride on a golf cart to our car, which they gladly did. Now that is service! Most exciting of all, we had finished in such blazing speed that we had plenty of time to shower at the hotel before our checkout! We weren’t even rushed! Normally it’s a mad dash back to the hotel, where we try to fight off the housekeeping staff for as long possible so we can take 2 minute showers and then get to the car or airport. It was so luxurious we could barely stand it. I think we need to start running faster just so we can have guaranteed showers at races.

p1010091-1024x768-1-2 I’m going to spare you the entire sequence of photos it took to get to this point, but trust me, it was awesome.

Sorry I’m not sorry for the excessive number of pictures in this post. The next one will probably be no exception.

How was your weekend? Have you ever run a fast time at a race where you felt terrible?