Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cellcom Green Bay Marathon Recap

The Short Version
I finished 16th overall in the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon with a personal record time of 2:46:26.

The Video Version by Michael Martineau and Carolyn Wrobel

The Long Version
This May I hadn’t run a marathon since April of 2010 in Boston. This was my longest layoff between marathons since I first ran one in 2006. I took half of October, November and December almost entirely off from running while I tried to recover from the mystery ailments that kept me out of the 2010 Chicago Marathon.

I kept my mileage a little lower than I had during my training in Portland last year and I tried to race a little more often. I did have a few weeks above 100 miles, but for the most part I was around 70 miles a week, with a race worked in every other week or so. These included the Race That’s Good For Life 5k (16:58), Shamrock Shuffle 8k (a hot 28:27), Lakefront 10 Miler (58:49), and the Run to Remember 5k (17:13 4th overall).

The positive signs about my training were that I PR’d in the 10 mile race, I had some decent short and consistent track workouts, and I was feeling fresh during non-race weeks. However, my work in the retail running world had meant I was unable to join friends for consistent weekend long runs or Monday night tempo runs. During my build up phase in Portland I was doing tempo runs by myself all the way up to 10 miles long at 6 minute pace. They gave me confidence that I was in the best shape of my life, however I never got to confirm this at the Chicago Marathon due to injury. It felt strange not to do specific tempo work during this training cycle but I was putting a priority on making sure my legs felt fresh and that I wasn’t duplicating what happened last year.

The Journey

My teammates Jason (photo left) and Rabbit (second from right) picked me up from my office on Friday night in a sweet rental and it felt great to leave everything behind and just focus on the race, and having fun with the guys. Highlights of the drive included the beautiful Milwaukee skyline, a stop at Aldi, and conversation about moon pussy. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Our room was right next to Lambeau Field which meant the expo and race start were really convenient. Rabbit was kind enough to share his bed with me, leaving Jason lonely and bored across the room.

Saturday morning we shared breakfast and then went out for a shakeout run. It was very cold, windy, and a bit rainy. We ran the last two miles of the course and then the first mile just to get a feel for the area. I felt pretty good physically as we did some strides and I made mental notes of what the 24th mile marker looked like. The wind was pretty drastic, but moving in it didn’t feel so bad. Full panic hadn’t yet set in.

After the shakeout run we went to drive both the half marathon course (Jason and Rabbit were racing this) and the full. J+R noticed a few inconsistencies in the course around mile 3 and 4. It seemed the course was significantly long in these areas without being shorter in any other spots. This is when Saturday started to go a little bit off. When we arrived to the 16 mile mark I exited the rental to check out the riverfront path that would be home to miles 16-22. The wind was unrelenting and strong out of the north (the exact direction I’d be running). This is when the reality about wind began to set in. Weather forecasts for Sunday morning had been calling for winds out of the north all week, but in the last few days they were getting stronger and stronger. Now they were calling for winds between 25-30mph and gusts as high as 45. It was about this time that we all began to get hungry.

The mood in the car was pretty bad as we tried to make sense of the course inaccuracies and the wind. A big Lunch and a nap helped a little bit before we headed over to Lambeau to pick up packets and attend the elite runner meeting. Jason and Robert brought up their course concerns with the elite athlete coordinator who said they should talk to the course director. In the meantime we looked at a course map that was in the packet and it was different than the one posted online. We attributed this to our course measurements seemingly being off.

That evening Erik(the other guy in picture above) and Myra joined us for dinner. They had spent the day working at an expo in Milwaukee. Erik was also racing in the full and Myra was there to support him. Jason had a burger and fries while the rest of us had salmon. We were at Tilted Kilt which is a ridiculous pre-marathon restaurant… so I declared that should I PR I would have to eat there before every marathon in the future. After dinner Michael and Carolyn, who were graciously coming to ride bikes and offer support along the course arrived and hung out in our hotel room for an hour or so.

So… basically, very little of interest happened in the two days leading up to the marathon. This is a good thing. It doesn’t make for interesting reading, but it usually means my routine was pretty simple and I was able to stay off of my feet quite a bit.


I set my alarm for 5:30am on Sunday morning, but I was up before it ever went off. This is the norm on the night before a marathon. I had stayed up until 11:30pm watching the Portland Timbers play the Seattle Sounders on ESPN2. Even so, the excitement of the race finally arriving made the short amount of sleep feel okay. Jason, Robert, and I headed to the lobby for breakfast.

The nice thing about doing races like these together is that in the few hours leading up to our race we are able to keep each other loose. There tends to be a lot of joking around and observational humor. We do analyze the task at hand quite a bit, but there is a lot of laughter mixed in. Each breakfast in Green Bay provided a number of laughs.

At breakfast I drank about 6 oz of coffee. I had abstained from any caffeine for about two weeks leading up to that moment. I wanted a lot more, but I knew that would be coming in the form of jelly beans, gu, and a Larry Coons Pellet (a tootsie roll type candy my friend makes that has a lot of b-vitamins and 100mg of caffeine). I’ve found caffeine can be a big boost to me, but if I have too much, too early I tend to go out a little too fast and hurt at the end. I ate some bagels, and a banana.

After breakfast, Erik and Myra came by and we walked to the elite staging area in Lambeau Field. Erik and Myra were staying at a hotel near mile 20 of the course and they reported that the headwinds in that area were blowing really hard. We were walking in some really brisk winds just to get to the start. The average wind on that morning in Green Bay was 28mph with gusts up to 40mph.

I crashed the elite staging area with the guys and did some light stretching on some wrestling mats. While I was in no way feeling confident about my chances in the weather, there were a few nice things turning in my favor. I didn’t feel very nervous (relative to how I normally feel) and I didn’t have to go to the bathroom. I didn’t get caught up in any lines anxiously looking at my watch. I also didn’t drink any extra water. I drink more water than the average person, but in the days and morning leading up to the race I simply had my normal amount.

We left the concourse of Lambeau at about 10 minutes until the race start. It was nice to be out of the elements until the last minute. Myra graciously took all of my things with her so I didn’t have to bother with gear check. It was really nice to walk up to the starting line so close to the beginning of the race. There are some nice perks to being an elite runner, and while I’ll never experience them, I certainly do appreciate them. In the parking lot of Lambeau I walked between a row of cars until I couldn’t see anyone who could see me. I knelt and peed for a few seconds. Suddenly I heard my name which was unsettling. I looked up and didn’t see anyone, so I decided I must have been making this up. I heard my name again and saw Peter, a friend who worked for New Balance (and formerly Nike) standing in front of me. He hadn’t told me he was racing, but we had a laugh about the wind and my parking lot bathroom then wished each other well.

When I entered the starting line area I placed myself about 5 or 6 people back from the line. I stood with Erik and we watched Rabbit awkwardly pee in front of everyone into a bottle. He had throwaway pants on so that it wouldn’t be too obvious, but he’s lucky he was just out of earshot because we would have given him a hard time. He and the other fast half marathoners filed into the front of the start line.

As I stood with Erik impatiently waiting for the gun to go off I was happy my shorts were dry. There was a stretch of 3 marathons in a row where I peed in my shorts just before the start. I would use a portable toilet or bush just a few minutes before the race and then find myself 5 minutes later in need of going again. It was some combination of nervousness and over-hydration. Other than the wind, things were looking good for the race.

The Race Itself
The First Five Miles
The first few miles of the race weave through very flat residential streets near Lambeau Field. A majority of these miles were run into the wind or with a cross wind. I concentrated on sitting behind as many runners as possible. I’m not sure how many runners were in front of me but I would estimate there were 100 to 150 at one point. From behind I had no way of knowing who was running in the full or the half. In some ways this was helpful because if people passed me I assumed they were racing the half and it didn’t stress me out.

After 800 meters or so I realized Erik was only just ahead of me and I knew I needed to back off a bit. He’s capable of running much faster than myself, and I didn’t want to get tricked into trying to stay with him. I had run 12 marathons prior to this one and only one of them was a negative split where I ran faster in the second half than I did in the first. Going into the race I was hoping to run 6:30 pace through the first 10 to 13 miles. This pace can feel really slow at the beginning of a marathon with so much adrenaline flowing. Its also a full minute slower than what I would run if I was racing a 5k.

As the packs of runners began to thin out, smaller groups emerged. I wasn’t the only person trying to sit behind other runners to avoid the wind. I would sit behind a group until another group began to pass us at which time I would switch to the other group. With so many runners around it didn’t feel awkward just blatantly drafting on another runner. I would have been stupid not to. With this in mind, I was a little less concerned with hitting exact splits and more focused on just being with others.

My splits for the first 5 miles were:
1. 6:18
2. 6:05
3. 6:00
4. 7:21
5. 6:09

Miles 6-10 Settling In
As you may have noticed, the splits were all much faster than 6:30, with the exception of mile 4. Mile 4 was along the portion of the course that we had noticed was long the day before. I assumed this would be made up for at some point along the course so I didn’t stress too much. I knew I hadn’t changed pace all that much.

I do find it interesting that I ran a few miles near 6:00 pace as I don’t remember doing this at all. Normally I’m aware of this sort of thing, but I think I was in a very relaxed state just thinking about the wind and staying out of it.

During the next 6.5 miles we began to encounter some very small hills and some portions that were a little longer and more exposed to the wind. The hills felt good to me as they varied the run a bit without changing my effort levels too much. I began to pass a lot of people during this section. Most of the people I passed were half-marathoners who had gone out too quickly, but I did notice some people were in the marathon.

I missed a lot of mile markers on this portion so I wasn’t sure of my exact pace, but I felt I was pretty even and wasn’t too worried. A number of women were running with me at this point and the crowds of runners were now very thin. It wasn’t as easy to draft without being noticed. It seemed only right to take a turn or two pulling at the front. Several of the girls I talked to were trying to run an Olympic Trials Qualifying time of 2:45:59. A few passed me and put a solid gap on me. I was tempted to run with them, but I had told myself several times that I wanted to wait until 10 or 13 before I increased my effort.

My splits for these 5 miles were:
6. Missing
7. Missing
8. 18:34 (6:11.66 average)
9. Missing
10. 12:48.5 (6:24.25 average)

Miles 11-15 Calm Before the Storm
Around mile 11.5 the half marathon and marathon courses split and the atmosphere of the race really begins to change. There are a lot fewer runners. At some points I couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind me on the course. There are also fewer spectators because those that get up early to watch usually go to where they can see both groups.

It was at this point that Michael and Carolyn played a key role. They had been appearing at several points along the course shooting video as I passed by. They would then ride their bikes to another spot just ahead and do it all over again. There were times when they were the only spectators I’d see for a half mile. This definitely helped me psychologically. I made it a point to joke with them as I passed to make sure my effort level wasn’t too high. I also used some advice that Jason had given me and made a point to give my mind and body a few moments to relax while running. I stretched my arms out, allowed myself to slow a bit and just took some deep breaths trying to think about the fact that 10 miles were behind me.

From mile 11.75 to 15 there was a really strong tailwind. I was tempted to pick up the pace here to make up time that I knew I’d lose going into the wind. I resisted temptation and tried to take things slowly, staying relaxed. Even though I was well ahead of pace to set a personal record I didn’t really think it would be possible. I wasn’t running stressed, but I wasn’t running with any sort of bounce in my step. The wind seemed to have taken any belief that I could do well away from me. I also could feel twinges in my Achilles and legs that I wasn’t accustomed to. For some reason I had decided to race in Asics Pirhanas. These are by far the most minimal shoes I’ve ever done a marathon in. I love running in them but they have given me trouble in distances even as short as 5k. The twinges had begun as early as mile 6 or 7. They weren’t bad, but they definitely made me worry that I had made a stupid choice to race in them. The furthest I had ever gone in them was 10 miles.

As I started seeing splits from this huge tailwind (you can see it blowing me in the photo on the left) sections I was worried. I thought I was beginning to run slower than goal pace. I wasn’t, but the only split I happened to see and take in was the 6:28. I figured I would be in big trouble when I turned into the wind. Once you begin running significantly slower than goal pace, mentally and physically its almost impossible to recover. I also knew not to trust any of the mile splits since the markers seemed to be spotty at best.

Just before the halfway point I caught up to one of the girls who had drafted behind me. It was her first marathon and clearly she had been a bit too aggressive. She was clearly in pain and slowed dramatically. When she began to put some distance on me I was tempted to tell her to hold back, but I’m always self conscious of looking like I don’t want a girl to pass me.

My splits during the tailwind were:
11. 6:19
12. 6:28
13. 6:16
14. 6:23
15. 6:08

Miles 16 – 22 A Mighty Wind
About 15.5 miles into the race things really got interesting. The course turns left to cross a bridge and cross a river. At this point the strong winds really kicked in. The course was really exposed on the bridge and the wind was gusting extremely hard from my left and in front of me. I could see Michael and Carolyn on their bikes ahead of me struggling to move forward at all. My pace was suddenly slowed and it took a lot of concentration just to stay straight. I passed a few runners immediately. I would have worked with them but they were barely moving.

As I came off the bridge and settled onto the river pathway that heads straight into the wind for the next 6 miles something strange happened. I felt relatively calm. A runner passed me and told me he had been chasing me for several miles. I tucked in right behind him and the wind didn’t seem so bad. Our pace was certainly slowed by the wind but I focused on allowing the wind to slow me. I wanted to keep my effort exactly the same and not press into the wind. Tucking behind the runner who had just passed me helped a great deal. It was at this point that I started believing that the wind would not be too much to encounter, and that I could possibly set a personal record. After several disappointing marathons in a row I might finally be able to improve upon my time.

The runner was wearing a very familiar red and white candy striped singlet. The singlet belongs to North Central College which is one of the best NCAA Divison 3 cross country and track programs in the country. After about 800 meters trailing him I clipped his heel with my foot and took this as a sign that I should probably take a pull. He appreciated the gesture and we began to work together over the next several miles. One of us would go ahead and begin to tire and then the other would go back in front.

We were reeling in runners left and right. I’m not sure how many runners we passed on this stretch, but, I’d venture to say it was somewhere around 10. Not one of them was able to run with us. I kept expecting people to latch on and form a bigger group but it never happened. At one point we caught a Kenyan woman who had been staying next door to us in my hotel who had been in the early lead. She was looking desperately behind her to see if any other women were on the horizon. I told her to work with us, but she popped off of the back immediately.

When the first split came it read 6:32 which was slower than my goal pace, but it was certainly not as bad as I imagine the wind might force us to be. The next split we encountered was very fast… and obviously short. At this point I knew not to trust any of the mile markers until number 24 where I knew they were correct. There were a few markers missing during this segment, and I think that might have been a blessing because I didn’t get a reminder every 7 minutes that I was running so slowly.

At mile 18 I reached into my pocket and pulled out my “Larry Snack”. I had taken two GU roctane during earlier portions of the course but now I was going all in. The caffeine in the Larry Snack is usually quite a jolt to me. It did its trick very well. I sat it on my tongue and ran with it for almost half a mile. It didn’t interfere with my breathing and it gave me something to think about besides the wind. I was in a pretty good mood and didn’t seem to feel any of the aches and pains that had started to set in. I bet the caffeine was a big part of this.

Another thing to note about my mental feelings at mile 18, is that instead of thinking that I had 8 miles to go, I was thinking more that I had 4 miles to go. As bad as the wind was, it seemed to help break up the race. I was so anxious to get out of the wind that mile 22 seemed more like the end than 26.2. In my experiences, generally mile 18 is a time when I begin to crack a bit and the 8 miles left seems far greater than it really is.

16. 6:32
17. 5:10
18. 6:17
19. Missing
20. 14:33 (7:16.5 avg)
21. 6:30
22. Missing

Miles 23-26.2 The Turns Hurt

Just past mile 22 we turned left and crossed another bridge to go back over the river. This time the wind was a little more at our back and there was a sense that we had escaped. There were a few sharp turns on this section and that was when I noticed how much my feet and legs hurt. Straight wasn’t bad, but each turn really made the body seem to revolt.

A man standing on the course told me and my North Central running mate that we were 22nd and 23rd. I noticed that a woman was coming into view ahead of me and she had two or three bikes around her. I knew that meant she was the lead woman. She was slowly coming back to me.

At mile 23 the man I had been running with started to fade a bit. He had gone forward of me by about 5 seconds but soon I was passing him and wishing him luck. Along with him I began to reel in some other men who were starting to wear out. The lead woman was also passing these people.

I was watching anxiously for mile 24 because I had run from there to the finish the day before and I knew it felt really short. When I saw it I knew I was in for a good day. My splits were under 6:30 and I wasn’t blowing up. I kept my eye out for Jason and Rabbit knowing that they might be pacing me in the last few miles.

I saw them right near mile 25 and I yelled out to ask how they had done in the half marathon. They both yelled at me to get my head in the game and to race my marathon. It was a bit of a shock. I had been so set on staying relaxed that I had failed to realize it was time to start pushing. This is my only regret of the race. I wish that I had dialed in a little sooner on the woman in front of me and concentrated on catching her. I think I could have picked it up a little sooner and had I caught her we could have pushed one another to faster times.

I still managed to run 6:11 and 6:07 in the final two miles which I was proud of. I’ve only had two marathons where I ran my last two miles faster than my average pace. In the last mile of the course you run into and around the field of Lambeau. It’s kind of cool but honestly I’d rather do without it. The turns are tight and the course rejoins the half marathon course. This means I’m passing people who have taken as much time to reach mile 12.5 as it took me to reach 25.5, so they’re moving a little slower. I did pass one marathoner while on the field and when I exited I came across the line in 16th overall, in a time of 2:47:26 which was a new personal record by 3 minutes.

23. 13.33 (6:45 avg)
24. 6:26
25. 6:11
26. 7:17 (1.2 miles, 6:07 avg)


Robert, Jason, Erik, and Myra were all there to greet me. I hugged Rabbit and Jason for a while and then headed out into the crowd to find Michael and Carolyn.

We all went to Hooters to celebrate and so that we could marvel at the matching outfits. I had never realized my racing kit was Hooters colors. After a few wings we piled back into the car and made it back to Chicago.

But, the story doesn’t end there. A few days later, an announcement was made by the race director that the course had indeed been long by about .15 miles. My time had officially been adjusted to 2:46:27. I had PR’d by 4 minutes instead of 3 and all I had to do was sit at my office chair.

1 comment:

Abby BK said...

Dan, you have an amazing ability to recount detail. While you might think this would bore people, I love reading about your race! I'm so glad you had this experience, it does wonders for the psyche. Congrats on the PR my friend!