Michelle’s Half of the Madison Half Marathon Race Report

Madison half before 5.26.13 CroppedMay, 26, 2013 was a landmark day for the fishstickstosushi blog, and the 40 X 40 (now 35 X 40) project. Chad and I both participated in the Madison Half Marathon! Since I am writing both as myself and Chad’s partner in his 35 X 40 effort, not only will I give a race report, but will also share some thoughts on Chad’s great accomplishment!

As anyone who has read the race report for my first half marathon ever has learned, I am a BOP-er (Back Of the Pack-er.) I am not fast. I don’t have long legs, or speedy genes in my DNA. I have never even necessarily trained to be fast, so again, its no surprise that I finish in the bottom third of my races. My training has been to make it through the race, and yes, I strive to improve if I am repeating a race, but that pretty much takes up most of my training time.

In order to stay focused and provide a final goal to help me through the dark, cold winter months, I decided to do the Madison Half Marathon, a spring race that’s part of the Madison Marathon Events series of races. (Actually, the reason this all came together is that Chad was supposed to walk this distance this same weekend as part of his Komen 3-Day training schedule, so it seemed destined.) When it came time to consider my goal time, I was at a loss, as usual. Having only done one half, I didn’t know what kind of improvement to expect. The course, number of participants and weather might be different, so as I always do, I tried to just look at my own race. What could I expect for improvement? I had originally hoped for 2:25:XX, which would be a 10 minute improvement over my last time of 2:36:32, which, admittedly, was me just trying to make it though the 13.1 miles. Could I get 2:25:XX if I tried for it? Again, I used Hal Higdon’s training plan, but I upgraded from Novice to Intermediate, which added some speedwork, which I needed! As I was training, I thought that the 2:25:XX goal might have been to ambitious, and I decided on the following “grading scale” for myself:

A=2:25:XX (or better)

B=2:30:XX (or better)

C=Better than last time of 2:36:32

On race day, wakeup time was 5 AM for the 7 AM start. It was cloudy and breezy with a bit of chill in the 50 degree air. I planned for shorts and a tank top, but instead wore a running t-shirt. I knew I’d be chilly at the start regardless, I just wasn’t sure how much it would warm up! I had an Einstein’s whole wheat bagel and peanut butter at 6, (I just can’t NOT talk about food!) and was able to eat 75% of it. (I always have trouble eating before a race; I still get nervous!) Chad and I got to the Capital square, made one last port-o-potty visit, dropped off our extra gear at the gear check station, and waited at the back of the pack, where the runners turned into walkers, to wait for the start. I kissed Chad good-bye when my 2:20 and 2:30 groups started off, and was more nervous for him than me as we parted ways!

The weather cleared up nicely, and since we ran up Observatory Drive, most people who wore jackets were taking them off before mile two. As it turned out, my clothing choice was just right! (Only runners who have made bad choices will appreciate the joy of this statement!)

Now comes the running! If I was to get an “A” on this race, my average pace would need to be about 11:04 minutes per mile. During the Madison Mini last year, I vowed not to look at my watch until after we came out of the Arboretum, which is around mile 8 or 9, since I wanted to enjoy the run and didn’t want to obsess over times. For this race, though I was still very casual about my time, I was curious about my pace. So I checked my watch at each mile. This is where it gets interesting! I never looked at seconds, just the minutes, but I averaged 11:XX for EACH mile, and there were never enough seconds to throw me off pace! What I mean is, my watch looked like this:11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 1:06, etc.! I was pretty darn proud of myself; not only was I consistently going faster than last year, but my mile splits were a thing of beauty!

A little more on “food;” I stuck with pretty much the same plan as last year. I took water at almost every station, and water + Gatorade when it was offered, and walked through each stop while I tried to drink the whole cup. (I wasn’t walking for more than 1 minute.) A couple exceptions: they were out of cups at mile 10, so I kept going (too bad, what with a huge hill coming up!) and skipped the last station after mile 12…every second counted by then and I was feeling well-hydrated. Also, I did not take any oranges, bananas or Gu offered on the course; I trained only with diluted Gatorade, and my one experience with Gu did not end well.

This course’s mile 10 mark was when we exited the Arboretum, and I thought I had it in the bag, but there were differences in the two courses, and this one was a doozy! We went up a VERY steep hill right in the middle of mile 10. Its one of those hills that from a distance looks like its going STRAIGHT UP! I had to make a choice here. I figured if I walked, like I saw a LOT of people doing, I would loose my shot at 2:25, and it also might give me a mental pass, and I wouldn’t push myself the rest of the race, either. I also knew that I couldn’t try and power up it at a fast pace, so its not like I could gain any real time here, and I didn’t want to bonk because of this hill. Deciding that I would be pissed at myself if walking led to a slower time, I decided NOT to walk. Granted, it could have been the slowest run in the history of running, but I KEPT RUNNING! I heard spectators talking to their runners, saying that more than half were walking up the hill, but they also said there was water and a downhill coming up. I think I may have passed one or two people during the hill, which was nice, but wasn’t the point; I needed to keep up my pace. As it turned out, that was my slowest mile, at 11:50, but it actually kept me thinking that I could make my goal.

After mile 10, I was trying to slowly increase my pace to finish strong, but with enough gas to get me to the line. I was able to pick off several runners and was feeling pretty good. But, for those who are used to running on the isthmus in Madison, all roads that lead to the Capitol (and the finish line) are gently rising uphills! The last three blocks were TOUGH, and it was touch-and-go whether I could make 2:25. This was the first time that I can remember REALLY having to push myself to get to a number that might be just outside my reach. Coming around the final corner, with just a half-block to go, I saw the clock had just turned to 2:25…I kept sprinting (I’m sure that’s not what it looked like at this point) until I heard my name and crossed the line. My time: 2:25:46!

Half Marathon Data

Fall 2012

Spring 2013

Net Time







212/244 (86%)

151/215 (70%)


1489/1725 (86%)

1098/1469 (75%)

Again, Madison treated me to a great race day! I walked through the finishing chute, picking up food and drink as I went. I was stiff and my butt was feeling that huge hill, but I was too happy to care. When looking at the results of my two different races, as shown above, I have to be loose with any comparisons. I do take a bit of pride, however, from the facts that:

  • My pace improved by an average of 49 seconds per mile!
  • My overall time improved by more than 10 minutes!
  • As mentioned earlier, my splits were quite even!
  • In both the division and gender categories, the percent of runners finishing ahead of me dropped by over 10%!
  • One more parting thought about my racing times and finishing places…I am about to enter a new age division, so LOOK OUT!

While this was definitely a lot to take in, the day was still only half a success at that point! After finishing and grabbing food, I picked up my gear bag and completed my Capitol Square walk to wait for Chad. We had signed up for Facebook updates, and just as I was checking my phone, I saw he passed the 10 mile point with a pace of 13:42 mile pace. I knew that would put him in ahead of schedule, but my mind couldn’t really do math at that point, so I didn’t dawdle and went to the line to greet him.

Madison half after 5.26.13I will let Chad give his own race report; no doubt it will be shorter than mine! But as he was training for this, and as I was waiting for him to finish, I couldn’t help but think of a conversation we had years ago, when I was just starting to do sprint triathlons. I had asked him if he wanted to do one with me, or maybe just a 5K. His response was something to the effect of, “No, because I wouldn’t be able to win, and I’m not doing something I don’t have a shot of winning.” Then there I was, years later, watching him walk a half marathon after losing 100#, with a 3-day, 60 mile walk still on the schedule for this year. I think he DID WIN!

Half marathon results 2.26.13 cropped

Click to enlarge

4 thoughts on “Michelle’s Half of the Madison Half Marathon Race Report

  1. Really cool blog…nice to hear the details of an athlete’s thought process as you go through something like this! Very well done you two. Good work!

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