2019: Journeys Marathon

The half marathon associated with this event should have been my maiden half marathon when I got into running several years ago. Nancy and Josh had tried their best to convince me – to sign up and train. I didn’t even sign up in 2012, let alone train. Though signed up in 2013 and still didn’t train, I had favored the hometown Hancock Canal Run to be my first half marathon. So, instead of Eagle River, WI, being the site of my maiden 13.1 attempt, the town just remained an occasional pit stop during adventures deep into the heart of Wisconsin … until now.

The initial plan, when I signed up for Journeys Marathon, was to treat it as one of those supported full distance training runs. While that plan still held true, in light of the 2019 Illinois Marathon (now known as the first dress rehearsal) two weekends ago, Journeys became the second dress rehearsal with following primary goals.

  1. Do not repeat the mistakes
    1. Complete the last easy jog 24 hours before the start time
    2. Eat the usual stuff at normal times and get to bed early the night before (and the night before that)
    3. If it’s a cloudy day, then leave the shades behind. Save the time spent in dropping it on the ground while wiping sweat and running backwards to pick it up
  2. Retain the lessons
    1. Stick to the nutrition plan during the run
    2. Easy breathing, good body posture and appropriate cadence
    3. Pick up the pace during second half or fourth quarter
  3. Learn more about running and racing
    1. Run the length of the course
    2. Set pacing goals (e.g., average paces to achieve by certain mile markers) that could come in handy when the event doesn’t offer formal pacers or there isn’t much of a crowd support along the course to draw energy from
    3. Reproduce (or if possible, improve upon) the result from 2019 Illinois Marathon – 3:35:46, 8:14 min/mile, 7.29 mph

The day before

With packing completed two nights ago and last easy jog wrapped up before 8 am (per goal 1.1 listed above), Ray Sharp and I left Houghton around noon. An uneventful drive took us to our destination around 2 pm (Wisconsin Time) but a slight detour let us explore/preview the course and I gained a better understanding of what to expect (and when to expect) and the landmarks, if any, along the way. The quick snacky lunch time in Subway was used to analyze the elevation profile some more and revise the average pace I planned to achieve (per goal 3.2 in the aforementioned list). Checking into the hotel was a breeze and a short nap later, we headed out to packet pickup.

To say that there was little surprise waiting for me at the expo is an understatement. We stood in line with the pre-registered entrants and the volunteers/organizers couldn’t find my entry … and in turn, there wasn’t a packet for me. I had used the same piece of plastic to register for all races/events and none of them had ever been declined. For whatever reason, Journeys Marathon registration seemed to have not gone through and I hadn’t paid sufficient attention. Fortunately, the on site registration was still an option and I got in … with a bib #57. It wasn’t a prime number but I got the next best thing: the product of two lovely primes (3 and 19)! Searching through the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce website, we found a quaint little supper club nestled a short distance off the highway – The Blue Heron Restaurant. Staff was friendly, food was good and service was quick … a hearty meal was in my belly before 7 pm (local time; 13 hours before the start time; per goal 2.1) and it wasn’t long after that I just as quickly drifted off into a full night of sleep.

The day

I woke up, fully rested, a few minutes before the first alarm at 5:30 am and had sufficient time to grab a quick bite to eat (PB&B sandwich). Given that the forecast had changed to low/mid 40s at start with a potential for mid 50s by finish on a clear day, I did carry my shades. A short drive to the school and a not so long drive on the bus took us to the starting area in Boulder Junction. Knowing that there were hills right off the start line, I didn’t engage in any formal warming up activity but focused on just staying warm in the White Birch Village Resort and chatting with fellow participants. Bill Sved, President of the UP Road Runners Club, gathered participating members for a pre-start photo (a first for me). The event got off started after an Irish Prayer (another first for me) and a collective rendition of a portion of America The Beautiful (yet another first for me).

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

For one of the few times so far, I started at the very front (something I need to get used to when the official results are based on gun time). I soon moved to middle (or near the back) of the pack and kept the pace easy. A ~9 minute first mile warmed me up sufficiently for the next few miles to come. The course preview had indicated a bigger climb shortly after mile #4 and most of the big hills in the first 7 miles. So, I attempted to pick up the pace up when elevation cooperated and maintain an even effort when it rose. I thought it’d be a good win and a good test of appropriate pacing if I could work my way up to 8:14 min/mile by the halfway point. I did … using timely nutrition and consuming water at every aid station. I felt pretty good about it.

Why 8:14? It’s the pace I had averaged for the entirety of Illinois Marathon – a nearly pancake flat course. My assumption was, if I could achieve it by halfway point here on a much hillier course, then I could set myself up for a decent second half. If all went well in the second half, I could be looking at reproducing the time result from Urbana, IL, in Eagle River, WI (per goal 3.3).

26.22 mi, 4:04:53, 9:20 min/mile (5:47 min/km), 6.43 mph (10.35 kmph)
Garmin Forerunner 935 and Tempe Sensor, Stryd Power Meter, and WP GPX Maps Plugin

Usage: php wp_extract-race-analytics-lap-by-lap.php event_unit DISTANCE GOAL_TIME EVENT_TIME CSV

If the first half was a story of hills, the second half was that of head/cross winds. The course, presumably flat in this portion, seemed to have a gentle yet grinding ascent that slowly sucked my energy with every passing mile. Head/Crosswinds certainly didn’t help either. After having coasted through the first 18 miles averaging a pretty decent 8:29 min/mile, I didn’t see any point in continuing to fight the situation. Doing so, given that this was not my target race, would have likely done more harm than good. Taking gradually rising temperature into account, I slowed down the pace, I walked when I felt necessary and consumed plenty of water at every aid station – even poured a cup over my head to cool the body off a bit. At times, the pace was so slow that a speed walker passed me and I had to use fartlek-like attempts to jog even a short stretch.

When I eventually crossed the finish line, the clock showed a few ticks shy of 4:05:00, averaging 9:20 min/mile (about an hour slower than Ray’s finish time) – good enough for 17/51 overall, 9/27 in gender and 4/6 in AG. The overall winner was in my age group, thus moving me up to third place and in turn, onto the podium – yet another first for me in a marathon. After another group photo with UPRRC members and with Ray, we headed back to Houghton. The drive was uneventful but learned much more what I need to do in the upcoming weeks to prepare for the target race and what could potentially be my average pace.

Though I didn’t repeat any mistakes, there were more lessons to bring home from this second dress rehearsal. Notably, the following:

  1. Ensure that I am indeed registered for the event and check the credit card transactions, if necessary.
  2. No making mountain out of a molehill: when looked through the Strava stats, the second half of the course was indeed flatter.
  3. Need to run more in hot and humid conditions. Though 55 is balmy on most days, most of the training runs have been in much cooler temperatures in my part of the world.
  4. Need to use a hat to gain a little more protection from Sun (hairs were glued stuck to skull and I could smell the salt as water rinsed it off during the post-run shower).
  5. Quite happy with knowing when to shut off and being ok when doing so.

I am quite happy and grateful that these lessons came in a tune up event and that I have 4 weeks to learn from them before the race day.

Thanks be to

the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timers, law enforcement officials, photographers, fellow participants and spectators), and the family of good friends in and outside of my community for all the unexpected, undeserved and unrewarded acts of kindness and constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as a human and an athlete. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable experiences with me, who helped keep my mind, body and soul in good health, who helped me stay the course during the training cycle, who continued to teach me the value of work-life balance, and who cheered me on from home or along the course.

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