Saturday, August 22, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Wausau Marathon

This morning, I ran the Wausau Marathon.  I also did this race last year.  It was hard to resist going back, because I had a certificate for a free night at the Hampton Inn in Wausau.  Also, Wausau is only a three hour drive from home, making this an inexpensive trip.

I drove to Wausau on Friday.  I went just a little bit out of my way, so I could have lunch at Rocky Rococo in Eau Claire.  After checking in at Hampton Inn, I went to the county fairgrounds to pick up my race packet.  Last year, packet pickup was at a shopping mall.  I found it much more convenient to pick up my race packet at the fairgrounds.  Later, I had dinner at the Rocky Rococo in Wausau.  Did I mention that Rocky Rococo is my favorite Wisconsin pizza chain?

Last year, the humidity at the start was 100 percent.  I went out too fast, overheated, and struggled in the second half.  This year, the humidity wasn’t as high, but it was still hot and sunny.  It was low 60s at the start of the race, but the temperature climbed into the upper 70s while we were running.  Sunny skies made it feel hotter.

I had no illusions about trying to run fast this year.  After the pain I felt during last week’s race, I rested all week.  I didn’t set any time goal for this race.  I just wanted to finish the race at whatever pace felt most comfortable.

Wausau is in Marathon Country, and the country fairgrounds are called Marathon Park.  That’s where the race started and finished.  As we left the park, I settled into a pace that felt easy.  I ran the first mile in 9:31.  The second mile started with a small hill, and I used that as an excuse to settle into 10 minute miles.

The course isn’t particularly difficult, but there are a few hills.  There were signs along the course with humorous or motivational slogans.  At the base of a large hill that comes just before the four mile mark, there was a sign reading, “It’s a Hill.  Get Over It.”

The course is one big loop.  It starts and finishes in Wausau, but goes through several neighboring communities.  After cresting the hill at four miles, we entered the village of Weston.

About this time, I was talking with two other runners and discovered one of them, Brooke, was running her first marathon.  Since I didn’t have a time goal, I ran the rest of the race with Brooke.

At around six miles, I took a walking break at one of the aid stations.  Brooke kept running, so I had to pick up the pace to catch up to her.  I was able to catch up, but after that the pace no longer felt easy.

At the halfway mark, we were still averaging 10 miles per mile.  I was finding the pace more difficult, but kept up.  Now that we were half done, Brooke told me she had a goal of breaking 4:30.  We were about four minutes ahead of schedule, so it seemed realistic, but the second half was going to be hotter.  Brooke’s longest training run was 20 miles, so I didn’t know how she would hold up in the heat in the last six miles.

We were both noticing the heat now.  At times, there was a nice breeze.  When the breeze disappeared, we could really feel the difference.

At 17 miles, we entered the scenic part of the course, which is alongside the Wisconsin River.  We started by crossing two covered bridges.

We were now on a paved trail.  At times, we could see the river.  Other times, we were in a dense forest.  I noticed an increase in humidity.  We also were sheltered from the breeze, so there was no relief from the heat.

As we briefly got back onto streets, we passed another sign that was worth stopping to take a picture.

I can’t take pictures while I’m running, and even after stopping, it takes a while for my camera to focus.  Each time I took a picture, I fell behind.  It got increasingly difficult to catch up with Brooke.  I could do it, but it took an effort.

At 19 miles, we crossed a long pedestrian bridge over the Wisconsin River.  After taking this picture, I once again had to work hard to catch up.   I commented that this might have to be my last picture.

Brooke’s reply was that she was in “survival mode” now.  She would run whatever pace she could manage.  Now the goal was simply to finish.

Despite having run this course last year, the next few miles all looked unfamiliar to me.  Maybe it’s because I was in “survival mode” when I ran this section last year.

Once we got past the 20 mile mark, Brooke was setting new distance PRs with each mile.  These were difficult miles for both of us.  Brooke started taking walking breaks.  I walked when she walked.  When she started running again, I found it increasingly difficult to run the same pace.  I had a hard time resuming running after a minute or two of walking.

In the last two miles, we finally got onto a road I recognized.  I knew the rest of the course, so I told her what to expect.  First, we had to cross a long bridge over a wide part of the river.  Brooke took a walking break, giving me one last chance to take a picture of the river valley.

After the bridge, we saw the Wausau city limit and the 25 mile sign.  In the distance, I could see a grove of trees on our right.  I knew that was Marathon Park.  We had to continue alongside the park for another half mile before entering the park.

Shortly after entering the park, we saw the 26 mile sign.  Shortly after that, we could see the finish line between the trees.  Brooke picked up her pace once the finish line was in sight.  I continued at my own pace and finished a few seconds behind her, with an official time of 4:38:47.  Brooke’s family, who met her several times during the race, was waiting at the finish line.  Brooke was a little disappointed that she didn’t break 4:30, but the conditions were tough.

The finisher medals had a nice design.  I also noticed that they were larger this year.  That seems to be a trend.

I was pretty wiped out and staggered slowly to the food tent.  In addition to cookies, fruit and various beverages, we each had coupons on our race bib for brats and beer.

After refueling and talking with other runners, I eventually made my way back to the hotel.  I didn’t have any groin discomfort, but I had some muscles that were unusually stiff and sore.  I took an ice bath and then spent some time soaking in the whirlpool.  Eventually I returned to Rocky Rococo for post-race pizza.

Last year I was feeling heat stress after only 13 miles and struggled to a finish that was disappointingly slow.  This year I was almost an hour slower, but I’m OK with that.   I knew I’d be slow.  The important thing is that I didn’t experience any groin pain during the race.  I’m cautiously optimistic that I’m none the worse for wear.

For the rest of the year, my race schedule is a marathon of marathons.  Just finishing each race is going to be tough, but I’m taking it one week at a time.  I got through this one OK. I’m at 284 lifetime marathons.  My countdown to 300 is now 16.

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