Monday, January 24, 2011

The Icebreaker Indoor Marathon: how I told Mother Nature to shove it!

Let us count the many ways that Mother Nature shows her lack of affection for me, shall we?

For my first marathon, Disney World 2007, she called in near-record high temperatures and humidity (in January, for Pete's sake!) and it was an epic battle just to not get picked up by the sag-wagon (finish time 6:23).

For my second marathon, Flying Pig 2010, I walked to the race start in a torrential thunderstorm and then ran the next 5 hours in the pouring rain. At least I had a ton of fun and ran a fabulous PR (5:15).

For my third marathon, Chicago 2010, the city saw record-high temperatures and the course was marked by the Red Flags of Death, indicating that runners should slow down and seek medical attention if they felt dizzy, faint or nauseous. I felt ALL of those things, but I did not want a DNF next to my name, so I pressed on as best I could, finishing with a bittersweet PR of 5:08. Bitter because I really wanted to run sub-5:00. Sweet because it was still a PR.

So when I found out about the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon, with it's temperature-controlled conditions, I thought "What better way to stick it to Mother Nature?" My friend and fellow FASTie, Kristi, agreed with me, and we both signed up.

You may think that running around in circles for several hours would be incredibly boring. Well, you'd be wrong. I now present my official Icebreaker Indoor Marathon weekend report. Grab a drink, put your feet up and enjoy the (long) ride.

Indoor 5k, Friday Jan 21

The Icebreaker weekend kicked off on Friday night with the inaugural 5k event. Kristi and I arrived early at the Pettit National Ice Center, which is an indescribably enormous facility, to pick up our race packets. To give you an idea of just how big this place is: the running track is around the outside of the speedskating rink. Inside the speedskating rink are two ice hockey arenas. TWO! Here, I demonstrate my excellent Photoshop skills with a composite panoramic image of the facility (click to see it larger):

The Pettit National Ice Center

Impressive, no? (The facility, I mean, not my excellent Photoshop skills. Although my skills are a force to be reckoned with. Whatever that means.) Between the two red barriers in the foreground of the photo is where the running track lies.

One of the hazards of running/walking around an ice arena is the potential vehicular traffic... in the form of Zamboni. So they have posted this helpful sign to remind everyone of the possible danger. Because apparently Zamboni are faster than they look. I wonder if there's a sign posted for the Zamboni operators that says "Watch for runners crossing".

Zamboni crossing

After picking up our race packets, Kristi and I ran a few warm-up laps around the track. I use the term "warm-up" loosely here, as I was freezing the whole time. The temperature inside the facility is supposed to be a constant 55º, according to the facility website. I think the facility website lies like a dog. To me, it felt more like 45 or 50º. But hey, what do I know?

Race swag - very cute long-sleeved shirt, a nylon backpack, water bottle, veggie seeds, and vitamin chews!

The 5k race was limited to 50 entrants, about 40 of whom showed on race day. We weren't planning to race this event, so we positioned ourselves near the middle-to-back of the pack. The race started a few minutes late, as they worked out some timing system kinks. Soon enough, though, they fired the starting gun and we were off.

I never got warm the entire race. I ran at a pace that was probably close to tempo pace and never even broke a sweat. There was definitely something to this racing-in-an-ice-arena thing. During the race, the announcer would call out the names of people who had 1 or 2 laps to go, which was helpful for those not keeping track (like me). There were also large monitors near the finish area that showed each runner's lap count. If you were still unsure of your lap count, you could ask a race official and they would find out and tell you on your next lap around.

I did encounter one minor annoyance during the 5k, which actually followed me into the marathon as well: I acquired a shadow. A heavy-breathing, chatty shadow. He was just lucky I wasn't racing that 5k. I'm not sure I could've tolerated that at all if I was trying to be "in the zone". I'm sure he was a very nice fellow, but I just really don't like to shoot the breeze with strangers while I'm running a race, even if I'm not running hard. And I absolutely cannot stand having heavy breathers right next to me. I wasn't sure if I should speed up and try to lose him (but risk pushing too hard right before the marathon), or slow down and hope he passed me. I opted to just tough it out. As he chatted (and I pretended to listen), I picked up on a very important tidbit... He said he was running all three races. I hoped to heaven that he wasn't going to shadow me for the marathon, because there was no way I was going to be able to deal with the chattiness and loud breathing for 26 miles. On the last lap of the 5k, he finally broke away from me and I did not try to catch him (imagine that!). I enjoyed the solitude of my final lap.

Me and my shadow, aka ShadowMan.
(Photo by Bill Flaws of Running in the USA)

When we finished up, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that Kristi placed first in her age group. We made our way to the runners' food room where we had the privilege of meeting and chatting with super-awesome race director, Chris Ponteri, and enjoying some home-made sugar cookies and other tasty treats. Kristi even got a shiny medal for her accomplishment. I placed second in my age group, but there were no medals for second place, because if that were the case, everyone would get a medal.

Kristi busting out an award-winning 5k without hardly trying!
(Photo by Bill Flaws of Running in the USA)

Kristi and I were both very thankful that we had opted to run the 5k, because we were able to get a feel for the track and the conditions inside the facility. We both agreed that had we not checked out the facility before the marathon, we both would've shown up way under-dressed. It was definitely quite a bit chillier than we expected.

The track itself is 443 meters long (slightly longer than 1/4 mile) and two lanes wide. It is a thin layer of rubber over hard concrete, and is definitely an unforgiving surface to run on. However, I think it's much more forgiving than the tiny tracks we have been training on, simply because the turns are fewer and larger. The turns are so gentle, in fact, that I didn't really "feel" them the same way I feel turns on smaller tracks.

Indoor Half-Marathon, Saturday Jan 22

Saturday's events included two half-marathons and a marathon relay. Some friends of mine, who I met from the Runner's World Challenge for the Flying Pig 2010, were running the later half-marathon. So Kristi and I went to watch that event unfold. When we arrived at the Pettit Center, the race was already in full-swing. Tony and Pam had about 6 laps of a total 48 already done. They both looked strong through the whole event.

Go Tony! And watch out, ShadowMan is right behind you!
(Photo by Bill Flaws of Running in the USA)

Tony was hoping to break 2 hours, and he was right on target to do it. But... the announcer butchered his last name so badly at the end of the race, that he didn't realize he had two laps to go, not one. So he stopped a full lap short without realizing it! He had even gone so far as to remove his timing chip and get his medal, when the announcer came back on the loudspeaker to say he had one lap to go still. Tony grabbed his timing chip back out of the box, gave his medal back, and ran around the track one more time at warp speed, finishing less than two minutes OVER 2 hours. So close! We all agree that it was a sub-2-hour race in spirit. If not for the announcing snafu, it's quite possible he would've met his goal.

And regardless of the lap count conundrum, Tony and Pam both achieved half-marathon PR's. It was very cool to watch them both do that.

Pre-Marathon Carb Loading

No marathon race report would be complete without a thorough discussion of fueling strategy. My fueling strategy for pre-race carb-loading was simple: it better be delicious. And delicious it was! I did a bunch of research on Yelp, looking for the perfect pasta place and decided on Il Mito Trattoria e Enoteca, because of it's excellent reviews and mouthwatering menu. I made reservations for our group (me, Kristi, Kristi's husband Steve, Tony and Pam), and when we arrived at the restaurant I was very glad I had made reservations. It was packed already.

The restaurant's head chef, Chef Feker, also runs a cooking school which is attached to the restaurant. We had the distinct privilege of being seated in the cooking school side of the building. It was a privilege because while we were eating, Chef Feker was actually teaching a cooking class and it was incredibly fascinating. It also made me hungrier, despite the fact that I was eating.

I regret to inform you all that I was so delirious with hunger that evening, that I forgot to take a picture of my entree. *collective gasp from readers* I know, I know. This is unprecedented. I always take pictures of VIF (very important food)! I ordered the Mezzaluna di Zucca (pumpkin ravioli) and it was outstanding. I don't think a picture could've done it justice anyway. The only way for you all to truly appreciate it is to go to Milwaukee and try it for yourselves. Go. Now. No, wait! Finish reading this blog post and then go.

Indoor Marathon, Sunday Jan 23

Ah, yes, the pièce de résistance. The marathon itself was truly the highlight of the weekend events. I was worried I wouldn't sleep well the night before the marathon because there was, and I swear I'm not making this up, a cheerleading convention going on in my hotel and the entire hotel had been taken over by loud, giggly, teenage girls. But, for whatever reason, they were pretty quiet on Saturday night, so I got some good sleep. I woke up at 5:45 and headed down to the breakfast buffet. I got there just in the nick of time, because 5 minutes after I sat down with my oatmeal and cup of tea, a hoard of hungry cheerleaders showed up and raided the buffet, stripping it of every last item of food. Okay, I may be exaggerating slightly. But only slightly!

Kristi and I left the hotel at 7am, knowing that the marathon started at 8, and it was about a 15 minute drive to get there. That would give us plenty of time to get our timing chips, figure out the aid station logistics, and take a few deep breaths before embarking on our long-yet-stationary journey.

The aid station setup was simple enough. Each runner was to supply their own bottles of *insert fluid of choice here* and fuel of choice (gels, shot blocks, beans, etc), and those items were to be marked with the runner's bib number and placed in a designated location on the aid station tables. When a runner wanted water, Gatorade or fuel, they need only tell one of the aid station volunteers what they wanted and their bib number, and the volunteer would have it ready for them to grab on the next lap. I had one bottle of plain water (which they refilled as needed), and 4 bags of Sport Beans. My plan was to take water every 8 laps from the start, and to take beans every 8 laps starting at lap 16. This plan worked out wonderfully, because I knew that every 8 laps, I would get a bit of a break (because I can't run and eat beans at the same time - I have to walk, lest I choke to death). It was only a short walk to eat those beans (less than 1/4 lap), but it was enough that it was something I really looked forward to in those later miles.

As the race start neared, Kristi and I lined up and noticed far too many people lining up behind us. Perhaps it was our FAST shirts making us appear speedier than we really were?

Looking speedy in red FAST shirts!

We tried to assure everyone in the vicinity that we weren't actually fast, but rather, were members of a running team called FAST. They looked unconvinced. Well, Kristi is fast, but since she is recovering from a stress fracture, she wasn't planning on running a marathon PR in this particular race. I, on the other hand, am never fast, and I'm not recovering from anything. I'm just naturally moderately-paced. Call it a gift. I, however, was secretly hoping to PR in this race. It wasn't my ultimate goal, and I knew I wouldn't be overly disappointed if I didn't PR (unlike Chicago, where I was bummed for a week afterward), but a PR would be icing on the proverbial cake. I felt well-trained for it. Time would tell whether or not all that hard training would come through for me.

My primary goal was to have fun. I, of course, use the term "fun" loosely, because running 26.2 miles always starts to lose it's innate fun-ness after about Mile 16-18. After that, the mental part of marathon running kicks in and it becomes a battle to just keep moving forward. But I digress....

The race started in the same way as the 5k - with a countdown and a gunshot. There were a lot more runners in this race than the 5k (about 105 in total), so the track was a bit more crowded, but for me, it was never problematic because I was rarely passing anyone during the first half of the race. The rule, which was repeated many times over by the announcer, was that you should stay in the outside lane and only use the inside lane for passing. Most runners did a good job of sticking to this rule, so the flow seemed pretty unrestricted from my vantage point. I suspect it is a little hairier for the really fast runners, who are constantly passing people, and trying to pass people who are passing people.

Headphones and MP3 players were strictly prohibited in all of the weekend's events. Anyone caught using such a device was to be tarred and feathered according to the unofficial rules. Instead, they played music over the PA system, and all of the songs were chosen by the runners. One of the race registration questions was to suggest three favorite running songs. And the race organizers took all these favorite running songs and compiled them into one big scary playlist, which, despite having a few awful songs on it, provided great entertainment. It's fascinating to hear the sorts of songs that get other runners pumped up. Hall and Oates? Really???

Also during the race, the announcer would read off interesting facts about each runner. This was also a question from our race registration forms. My interesting fact was that I write a super-awesome blog (as you all already know). The announcer pronounced it "sweet like a pig", so I'm not sure I'll be getting any extra page hits as a result of my shameless advertising, but hey, I tried. (As a side note, the announcer also pronounced flag as "flayg" and bag as "bayg". Wisconsinites are strange.)

The race organizers also made back bibs available to the runners. These were blank bibs that the runners could write whatever they wanted on, such as their name, interesting facts about themselves, etc. This allowed the runners to get to know each other as they passed each other on the track. It was interesting to meet people who had, for example, been smoke-free for 22 years, or were 4-year brain cancer survivors, or had run 30 marathons in 30 states. In what other race can you get to know your fellow runners like that? By Mile 16, I was on a first-name basis with several other runners (Lori, Dick, Heather, Bob - way to go!).

And you know what else was really awesome? The spectators. There weren't a lot of them, but the ones who were there were nonstop enthusiastic. They watched the same people run around in circles for over 95 laps, but their excitement never waned. I high-fived the same group of children at least 70 times. And a group of teenage girls cheered for me by name at least 50 times. "Yeah Emily, you're looking great!" Every lap. Another group of girls had brought a dry erase board with them, and they changed their cheering sign every few laps. They were there to cheer for their brother, mostly, but their signs were very entertaining to read. "#14 is single, ladies!" Then there was the dancing lady, who was in the stands getting funky to every song that came on the PA system. She probably burned as many calories dancing as we burned running. She cheered for me and Kristi a lot - "Yeah FAST girls! Lookin' good!" Why yes, we were lookin' good.

Lookin' good in the marathon. Oh and lookie, it's ShadowMan again - and this time he has a friend!
(Photo by Bill Flaws of Running in the USA)

Yes, ShadowMan found me in the marathon and tried his darndest to hang on to me. But when I took my sport bean break at Lap 16 and started to walk, he got all whiny and said "You can't do that! You're our pacer!" Apparently both of those guys behind me were using me as a pacer. Funny, I don't remember signing up for that job. I was happy to let them pass me. It's hard enough work just pacing myself - I don't want to worry about anyone else's pace. He actually caught up to me at a couple other points in the race (I could hear him breathing loudly behind me), but he didn't stick around for long, which was a relief.

Between the amazing facility, the constant course entertainment, the enthusiastic spectators and the friendly and encouraging runners, it was already shaping up to be an incredible marathon experience. But when you add the outstanding volunteers to the mix, you get a truly world-class event. The volunteers kept all of us runners running. Without them, I don't think most of us would have met our goals. I can't imagine what a difficult job it is to man the aid station, and to have dozens of runners shouting at you at once, asking for all sorts of different things. But the volunteers never missed a beat. When I asked for water, they had my water ready on the next lap. When I asked for beans, they had my beans ready.

Aid station volunteers working hard (and the one in the brown hoodie is Tony!)
(Photo by Bill Flaws of Running in the USA)

Toward the end of my race, when there weren't very many runners left on the track and I'm sure I was looking pretty drained, the volunteers cheered as loud as the other spectators.

I would say I felt pretty darn good for the first 16 miles. After that, I started feeling the fatigue, both mental and physical, of running around in circles on a hard concrete surface. There was also a sort of mental fatigue in hearing the names of runners who had already finished being called out. I wished I could be finished! Incidentally, I had the unique experience of being less than 2 yards behind the winner of the marathon as he crossed the finish line. That's certainly never happened to me in any other race before!

My legs were getting tired and my feet were starting to hurt as the miles ticked on. But I was also vaguely aware that my pace was picking up a bit. I logged my lap splits with my Garmin, but didn't check my split times on every lap. I just knew that at the beginning of the race, my laps were about 3:05-3:07 per lap, and toward the end, they were more like 2:59-3:02. That's excluding my fueling laps, which took more like 3:20 due to my brief walk break.

As the miles ticked away, I began a mental lap countdown. Lap 80? Just 16 more laps to go. Lap 86, just 10 more. I can do 10 more laps. Lap 90, I'm in the home stretch. There were some new spectators at this point, and their enthusiasm really got my through those last grueling laps. They high-fived me every time, even when I barely had the energy to high-five. When the announcer finally called out "Emily Boggs, you have just one lap to go!" I could hardly believe it. 95 laps ago, the end seemed so far away even though it was always within sight. Now, here I was, cruising to a victory. Kristi had finished her marathon about 3 laps ahead of me, and at this point she was on the sidelines cheering for me. "You've got this, Emily!" Oh yes, I had it. I gave as much of a final kick as I could (which wasn't much - I was pretty fried) and as I crossed the finish, I saw 4:53 on the clock.

I had done it. I had finally broken 5 hours. Not only that, but I PR'd by 15 minutes. Officially, my time was 4:53:38. Me = pleased as punch. I mean, like, toothy-grin, giddy-as-a-schoolboy, can't-shut-up happy.

Pace graph. Notice the gradual overall increase - negative splits are how I roll.

I collected my medal, which the awesome volunteer actually placed around my neck (rather than handing it to me and brushing me out of the way like in so many other races), and I hobbled very slowly over to catch up with Kristi and Steve. Turns out, she was hobbling very slowly too so she was fairly easy to catch. We both looked like... well... like we had just run a marathon! But she was also pleased as punch for having survived it after so recently suffering a stress fracture.

Exhausted but victorious!

We made our way (gingerly) to the runners' food room and enjoyed some of the many treats - bananas, chocolate milk, cookies, bread, muffins, donuts... you name it, they had it. (Except, regrettably, beer) Unfortunately, we couldn't stick around long because our hotel checkout time was 2pm and it was already well after 1 o'clock. So we thanked the race director and any of the other volunteers we happened to see on our way out, and bid a very fond adieu to the Pettit Center.

The silver medal was awarded to all marathon finishers.

Will we run that marathon again? Yes, and no. Kristi and I have already decided that next year we will be back for the Icebreaker, but we will run the marathon relay instead of the full marathon. So... we need two more relay runners for our team. Who's in?!

Peace. Love. Train.


  1. What a great race report! I looked for a photo of me at the aid station and couldn't find one! Apparently I just missed it. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Hi Emily. What a wonderful race report! I am Bill and I am on the race committee and also ran the full. I remember you and your friend quite well. I think I said "Hi" or "Great Job" or something like that many times to you on the track. I am glad you liked the race so much and I really hope you can return. If you didn't see the relay, that is the most fun race of all to watch, and I guess, Participate in. My kids were there after 11 giving High Fives, perhaps you got a few from them.

    I do remember our announcer mentioning your blog but I couldn't remember it so I found this via Google.

    I am going to forward this link to our race director and the other members of the committee so they can appreciate all your wonderful words.
    If you get a chance, please jot down a few things that we could do to improve our race. Now, I can't do anything about the ShadowMan, and someone must like H&O's, but we come up with new ideas all the time and would love more. Please email us or find my blog post and comment there. love2run26.blogspot

    Thanks again for coming to Milwaukee and racing with us. And yes, we do pronounce Bag and Flag that way!

  3. Hey Bill! I do remember you! Thanks for all the encouragement! I'm sure I got high fives from your kids too. I'm glad you were able to find my blog. I'll definitely check out your blog. And I'm also glad to know my ears weren't deceiving me when I heard "bayg" and "flayg". ;-) Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Emily,
    GREAT JOB! Sub-5 hours! That is amazing.

    If you want to do a marathon relay, I would definitely be interested. Had a blast running one with Becky in Quad Cities. Granted, I would also be interested in doing Goofy... Let me know when you want to take on that challenge.

    See you tomorrow.

  5. I totally remember you and you did an AWESOME job!!! WTG on your PR!

    I worked the water table for the marathon and it was truely a blast! I wrote about my view from the water table on my blog here (btw, that's me in your photo, behind Tony, with the blue hat on, and my brother was the tall guy on the other side of me)

  6. Kimberly, I remember you too! You and the other volunteers were so awesome - I couldn't have PR'd without you. Thank you so much for sharing your story here! :)

  7. Way to go with the PR! Good job with the race report too. I remember you and I'm glad to hear you had a great time at the Icebreaker. PR's sure make the pain go away quicker, huh?

  8. Thanks Matt! Yes, PR's definitely dull the pain! :)

  9. Hi Emily! Great recap! I was cheering in the stands on Sunday (more cowbell!) and definitely saw you and Kristi in your FAST shirts. What I noticed was that both of you looked to be having a great time. Glad to hear you enjoyed the events so much! I'm glad I found this blog, it looks awesome and I'll definitely be keeping up with it via RSS. Good luck in all your future events! :)

  10. Thanks Anne! I remember your cowbell very well. :) I'm checking out your blog now too - very cool. I never knew there was a Madison-to-Chicago Relay. I might have to run that! :)

  11. Emily, great race report. I agree with you 100% about this race and with the exception of Big Sur (you can't beat that race) this was my favorite race. I was the tall guy in the bears shirt that took your photo before the race. Anyway, if you need a relay partner next year, keep me in mind.