Sunday, November 27, 2016

Race Report: 2016 Minnesota Indoor Marathon

This morning, I ran the Minnesota Indoor Marathon in St. Michael, MN.  It was held on a 200 meter indoor track at St. Michael-Albertville Senior High School.  This race, along with a half marathon and 5K, were fundraisers for the Minnesota Girls and Women’s Wrestling program.

This was an inaugural event.  Because it’s a Minnesota marathon, I knew I’d run it eventually, but I wasn’t sure if it would work to run it this year.  I had to wait until I knew what our Thanksgiving plans were.  I also had to wait until I knew if I would be up to running another marathon just one week after Flying Monkey.  I don’t bounce back from races as quickly as I used to.

Once I knew I could fit the race around our Thanksgiving plans, I still had one other reservation.  The race started at 7:00 AM.  Packet pickup was before the race, and I had never seen the race venue before, so I wanted to get there about an hour early.  I also needed to allow about an hour for the drive to St. Michael.  Finally, it takes me about an hour to get ready for a race after waking up.  That meant I had to set my alarm for 4:00.  Did I really want to wake up that early to run 211 laps on an indoor track?  Apparently, I did.

I’ve done five other indoor marathons.  If they’re well-organized, and there’s an appropriate limit on the number of runners, they can be a lot of fun.  If not, they can be chaotic.  I was a bit skeptical when I read that the race was limited to 100 runners.  That’s way too many for such a small track.

Laps are recorded manually, so I was relieved to read each runner would have their own lap counter.  I wasn’t sure would they would find room for 100 lap counters, but I was hoping they wouldn’t actually have that many runners.

As it turns out, waking up early wasn’t a problem.  I had a restless night, and I was awake long before my alarm went off.  I had time to make some oatmeal for breakfast before getting on the road.

When I left home, there was a dense fog.  I was fine on the freeway, but when I got to the Albertville/St. Michael exit, I had to pull over and turn on my phone.  I couldn’t see where I was, and I could read street signs.  Without GPS, finding the high school would have been difficult.

I got there just as packet pickup was starting.  I was the first runner to arrive.  I learned there were only 21 runners signed up.  That’s a nice comfortable number for a small track.  There were enough other runners that I would never be lonely, but the track would never be crowded.

The track had five lanes, but we never needed more than three.  They followed the same etiquette as other indoor races.  Slower runners stay in the inside lane, and faster runners go around them to pass.  While the faster runners sometimes run extra distance in the turns, nobody has to look behind them, and nobody has to guess where somebody else is going to run.

In addition to our race packets, we each received a free pair of shoes.  This was a first race I’ve done where everybody got shoes.  No, I didn’t race in the new shoes.

The race provided food and beverages, but runners were expected to bring their own water bottles.  They had a large table with food near the start/finish line.  There were tables with Gatorade and water in the corners.  I brought a bottle that I could leave at one of these tables and refill when necessary.

It’s easy to go out too fast on a track, but you don’t have to wait long to see what your pace is.  I started at a pace that felt conservative, letting most of the other runners go by.  Before long, the fastest runners started to lap me.

I finished my eighth lap (about one mile) in 9:25.  After two more laps, I took my first water stop.  Then I settled into a slower pace.  After that, I didn’t check my watch much, so I didn’t realize how much I slowed down.  I didn’t worry about going too slow.  My only concern was not starting too fast.  I’ve had way too many races where I started at a pace that wasn’t sustainable, only to slow substantially in the second half.

I asked my lap counter to let me know each time I finished a multiple of ten laps.  Then I would take a drink of Gatorade.  I grabbed my bottle from the table in one corner, drank while running, and set it down on the table in the opposite corner of the gym.  That way, I didn’t have to carry a bottle for the whole race, but I also didn’t have to stop while I drank.  I only had to stop to refill the bottle when it was empty.

Inside the building, it’s normally 68 degrees.  After we started running, the race officials opened a door to let in some of the cold outdoor air.   That helped bring the temperature down to something more comfortable for running.

For the first half of the race, most runners were lapping me frequently.  I was lapping the slowest runners, but I was clearly in the slower half of the field.  I was OK with that.

Every 30 minutes, we switched directions.  When it was time to switch, one of the race officials blew an air gun.  As we each finished that lap, we turned around a cone and started running in the opposite direction.  This is common for indoor races.  You’re constantly turning.  If you always turn in the same direction, it’s easy to develop injuries.

The halfway mark came at 105½ laps.  There was a cone halfway around the track, so I knew exactly when I got there.  I ran the first half in 2:18:00.  That was several minutes slower than I expected.  My pace was relaxed, but perhaps it was too relaxed.

At this point, I set a goal of running negative splits.  That’s something I hadn’t done in at least a year and a half.  I debated whether to pick up the pace immediately or wait.  I felt like I could pick up the pace substantially, but I didn’t think I could sustain that pace for 13.1 miles.  Should I pick up the pace just a little bit?  Would I notice if I slowed down to my old pace?  Should I wait a few more miles and then speed up significantly?  Should I speed up now, and hold on as long as I could?

I opted to go all in.  I sped up until there were only two runners who were still lapping me.  I was now passing runners who had been passing me earlier.  It felt good to push myself to a faster pace in the second half of a race.

By now, I was starting to feel like I might need a bathroom break.  The bathroom was outside the gym and down the hall, so I didn’t want to stop if I didn’t have to.  I adjusted my fluid intake.  For the rest of the race, instead of drinking every 10 laps, I switched to every 20 laps.  One time, I went 30 laps before taking a drink.

It’s easy to go faster when you’re only focused on your next lap, but I still had more than 100 laps to go.  That’s a lot!  With each additional 10 laps, the remaining distance seemed more manageable.

With about three miles to go, I could tell I was starting to fade.  I was still going faster than I ran in the first half, but I was gradually decelerating.  At the four hour mark, I turned around for the last time.  I only had 14 laps to go.  Clearly, I was going to run negative splits by a wide margin.  Now I wondered if I could break two hours in the second half.  I had 18 minutes to run 2,800 meters.  I knew I could do it if I didn’t let up.

Whenever a runner was on their last lap, the lap counters all stood and cheered.  I poured it on, and I finished in 4:16:48.  I broke two hours in the second half, and I ran negative splits by about 19 minutes.  After so many slow finishes, that felt really good.

I knocked off another Minnesota marathon.  There are still four that I’ve never run.  Next year, there will be at least two more new ones.  Running them all seems like a never-ending goal, but I’m chipping away at it.

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