Monday, July 30, 2012

Lucky Sevens

There's something special about Milwaukee.  Maybe it's the fact that I've set several race PR's there (including two marathon PR's in 2011).  Maybe it's the fact that it's just a great city with great running.  Maybe it's the fact that they have really awesome beer.  I suspect it's a combination of all these things (but mostly the beer) that keeps me going back there to race.

When I found out that my favorite indoor race director, Chris Ponteri, was going to start a new mid-summer indoor event called Heatbreaker as a spin-off of the wildly popular Icebreaker wintertime events, I jumped at the chance to be part of the inaugural race.  What better way to ensure optimal race conditions than by racing somewhere where it's always 55º, even when the temperatures outside soar over 100°!  And unless you've been living in a cave for the last two months, you know that temperatures in these parts have indeed been soaring over 100º.

The Heatbreaker  (not HEARTbreaker) event consists of four half marathons spread out over the course of a single day.  Participants can run the half marathon of their choice (until capacity is reached), or they can opt to run two, three or all four half marathons if they dare, by registering for the Two Alarm, Three Alarm, or Inferno Challenges respectively.

Take a moment to do the math with me, won't you?  The Inferno Challenge is four half marathons.  That's 13.1 miles x 4.  52.4 miles.  In one day.  On an indoor track. That's, like, a lot of freakin' laps.

Only two brave souls opted to run the Inferno Challenge.

*dramatic pause*

I was not one of them. (Sorry!)

My running buddy, Kristi and I were originally signed up for the Two Alarm Challenge, but life got in the way and our training just never quite got to where it should be in order to pull off a double half marathon.  We both decided to switch to a single half marathon, in order to prevent injury and/or death.  We were just going to run for fun, and enjoy a day or two in Milwaukee...

...but as the event drew closer, my goal slowly shifted.

You see, I haven't set a single new PR, in any distance, in 2012. It has been discouraging.  I know I should cut myself some slack with all I've been through in the last 6 months.  But I thrive on setting and meeting goals and realizing improvement, and I had not seen any improvement since last fall.  My training had been going pretty well in the several weeks leading up to Heatbreaker, so I decided I was going to "go for it".  I was going to race Heatbreaker and see what I was capable of.

You may be laughing to yourself, thinking "Well, how hard could it be to PR on a perfectly flat, climate-controlled, indoor course?"

Ha! If you are thinking that, then you clearly have not run an race like this.  I would actually be so bold as to call the Pettit Center a "tough course".  Flatness is not necessarily a virtue, in my opinion, and flatness on hard concrete is even worse.  Yes, there's a thin layer of rubber over the concrete, but still, this track really beats up your body if you're not used to it.  When there are hills in a race, the muscles used to run are constantly changing, because different muscles are engaged for running uphill versus downhill.  On a perfectly flat course, the muscles never get a break.  The muscular monotony is incredibly demanding.  And let's not forget about the mental monotony of running around in circles (well, ovals, to be more accurate).

So perhaps I was a little crazy to even consider going for a PR in this event.  But then I picked up my race packet and saw my bib number.


Now, I'm no expert on luck, but that seems like an awfully lucky number to me. I actually felt lucky just wearing it. I was ready to run this race.  Although, in hindsight, maybe I should've used my luck to play the lottery instead. 

I started feeling nervous while we were sitting around waiting for the first half marathon wave to finish.  I really didn't know if I could pull off a PR because it had been so long since I had PR'd in anything!  But then we walked down to the track to stash our gear and I saw a most glorious sight - the American flag (er, I mean, "flayg") flying over a port-o-potty - and I was instilled with a sense of confidence.

In Wisconsin, this is a FLAYG. It looks suspiciously like a flag to me.

And then Kristi and I spotted the Team USA Olympic flayg hanging on the wall, and we both beamed with pride for our country and for the fact that our outfits coordinated so beautifully with the the Olympic rings.

If awesomeness were an Olympic sport, we'd totally win gold.

So when it was finally race time, I was all fired up. Between my lucky sevens and my Olympic pride and the 48 possible bathroom stops along the course should I need them, I couldn't lose!  Chris fired the starting gun, and after we all jumped 20 feet in the air because that gun was loud, we were off.  I knew I would have to pace myself very carefully, since I would only be receiving feedback on my pace once every 0.275191 miles (a total of 47 times, plus a fraction of a lap at the start).  I was aiming for lap splits of 2:22, which corresponded to a pace of about 8:35.  I didn't know if I could sustain this pace for 13.1 miles, but I was sure gonna try!

The first few miles were great.  I felt light and swift.  I ditched my arm-warmers by mile 2, and even started to sweat.  The Pettit Center felt a bit warmer this time around than it has on the previous occasions I've run there, but I was very comfortable in my capri-length tights and lightweight short-sleeved shirt.

I was hitting my lap splits with expert precision.  Sometimes I would have a 2:23, or a 2:20, but most of them were spot-on 2:22. The only time my lap splits significantly deviated was during my two planned water/fuel breaks, where I had to walk in order to fuel/hydrate without choking. 

Feelin' lucky...

The middle miles made me delirious.  My mind started to fatigue, and then my legs started to fatigue, and with every  time I passed the finish line I lamented the fact that I was not finished. Knowing that I still had 25, 21, 16, 13 laps to go made it seem like it would never end.  But then I got to the single digit lap countdown and my outlook suddenly improved. The end was always literally in sight, as I kept running past it over and over, but the end of my race was finally figuratively in sight.  

The announcer called out "Emily 777, you are on your LAST LAP!" and I shifted into a new gear, holding on until I crossed that finish line for the 48th and final time. 


I set a new PR by almost 2 minutes.  Chris-the-race-director placed the medal around my neck himself.  Now that's a real personal touch! Nevermind that it was only because he was short on volunteers to hand out medals. I like to think he wanted to be there to personally congratulate me on my world-class race performance. 

Me and my favorite race director, who admitted that  it was just a happy coincidence that I got such a lucky race number. Darn, and I thought it was because I was his favorite race participant!
Kristi finished running shortly after I did, and then we both knew what we had to do.  It was time to refuel.

We started with an appetizer of homemade sugar cookies and chocolate milk. 

 Then we rehydrated with water and good Wisconsin beer.  In this case, Spotted Cow. Yum.

And for the main course, this tasty grilled vegetable pizza.
After sufficiently stuffing our faces with tasty eats, Kristi and waddled out to my car and made the long drive back home. It wasn't until later that evening when I saw the official results from all four races posted that I found out I placed 3rd in my age group (across all four events).  Sweet!

I don't know what the award is, only that it will be mailed to me within the next couple of weeks.  I am hoping for a new car, or perhaps an all-expenses-paid trip to Fiji.  But I guess those are probably the awards for 1st and 2nd place.  3rd place probably just gets a diamond tennis bracelet or something lame like that.

As always, Chris-the-race-director and his team did a fantastic job of putting on a top-notch running event. There's a reason we keep going back to these events, and it's because they are well-organized, tons of fun, and just plain unique.  So thanks, Chris, for another fun time in Milwaukee.  I look forward to receiving my diamond tennis bracelet age group award soon!

Peace. Love. Train.

1 comment:

  1. I had such a great time at this race, too! Congrats on the PR. I thought the whole running in a circle thing was challenging mentally.