Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Milwaukee?

A key part of racing strategy isn't the strategy that you bring to each race you run, but the strategy around which races you run-- how many, how often, which kind of courses, and when.

Some runners prefer to race very frequently without choosing a target race. Some marathoners like to simply run as many as possible without much regard for time. My race strategy is to space out my races evenly enough so that I have sufficient time to train/recover between them. When this hasn't been the case, then I have always prioritized one race over the other. For example, in 2008 I ran the Shamrock marathon, followed by the London marathon four weeks later. Shamrock was the target for speed, and London was a fun run.

My race strategy for 2011 was to focus on Shamrock (March 20) as the target marathon and then do the Nike Women's Marathon (October) for fun. I'm going to be in San Fransisco for a business event while the Nike Women's Marathon is taking place, and my hotel is just a block or two from the start line. So I can't not run it. I wasn't going to try and race it for time because I've heard that the course is difficult, it's not well-organized, and it's really geared for people who want to run something for fun and get a cool prize at the end (a Tiffany necklace). Quite a few runners have told me not to waste a training cycle on it. So, that left me thinking that I should do the Nike Women's half marathon as a fun run while I am in San Francisco, and pick another marathon to race seriously before then.

Why before and not after? I always run the St. Jude Memphis marathon or half marathon in December, so I wouldn't want to fit in a marathon prior to that. Plus, after my business event, I will be spending 4-5 days in Napa Valley on vacation, which would put a wrench in my training. Why not make St. Jude Memphis the target marathon? Because I am anxious to race one sooner and the Memphis course isn't advantageous to a fast time.

Another factor that I have to deal with is the weather. I am extremely heat sensitive and have DNF'ed two marathons due to the heat, and have bonked in another one because of the heat. If it's going to be above 55 then forget it. Therefore, later in the fall is preferable, but I've already said it needs to be before the weekend of October 15 so that I can take my vacation afterwards. So I decided I would target the weekend of October 1-2.

I started poking around on to see what races were going on that weekend. I was pretty flexible travel-wise, but I didn't want to go cross country. An obvious candidate was the Wineglass marathon. I had heard a lot of good things about Wineglass, and with a net downhill elevation, the course profile was certainly in my favor. Another possibility was the Mohawk Hudson River marathon, but that was actually the following weekend, which would prevent me from doing the Nike Woman's half marathon the weekend of the 15th. And, the Mohawk Hudson River marathon is very much of a downhill course, and I want to see what I can do on something that's either flat or has rolling hills. Something like Shamrock is ideal, but of course I am injured and can't run that one! Although Wineglass looked really attractive, it had two drawbacks. 1) There was no airport nearby, so it would mean a 5-6 hour drive. 2) The start time was 8:00am, and I was hoping for 7:00 to 7:30. That extra time without the sun beating down on you can really mean a lot at the end of a marathon.

So, that brought me (well, us-- Greg and I decided on this together) to the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon. It had everything that we were looking for.

  • Target weekend of Oct. 1-2
  • In the northern part of the country
  • Start time of 7:30am
  • Medium-sized race
  • Reputation for being well organized
  • Direct flight without having to rent a car when we get there
  • Gently rolling hills for the first 16 miles, and then some nice downhills
The only drawbacks are that I've heard it can get windy in the last 3 miles near the lake. And that "Lakefront" is a misnomer because you don't even see the lake until the last few miles. And of course, with my luck, it could be really hot and spoil the whole thing for me, putting me on a nearly 4-year streak with no marathon PR, despite massive improvements at all other distances over the past few years. (Yah, I'm bitter.)

To recap past marathons:
March 2008: Best marathon ever on very little training
October 2008: Got really sick for 4 weeks, couldn't run the Hartford marathon
January 2009: Overheated in the 65+ degree, sunny weather in Phoenix, AZ
April 2009: Got hypothermia and passed out at the end of the race due to 45 degrees & pouring rain
September 2009: Foot injury, couldn't run the Toronto Waterfront marathon
March 2010: DNF'ed at that Shamrock marathon due to 65+ degree, sunny weather
May 2010: DNF'ed the Potomac River marathon due to 75+ degree weather and 90% humidity
May 2010: Mediocre time at the Bob Potts marathon due to missing my peak, or being worn out from the 18.5 miles I ran at the Potomac River marathon
November 2010: Ran NYC as a fun run with husband for his first (was happy I did this)
December 2010: Stomach issues, extremely painful, walked the last 4 miles
March 2011: Stress fracture, can't run the Shamrock marathon

Maybe to some people these sound like excuses, but I know my training has been rock solid-- especially in comparison to how I trained for the Shamrock in 2008. And my PRs at other distances prove it. I am capable of running a marathon much faster than a 3:51, and one day I'll actually be able to demonstrate that.

So hopefully October 2011 in Milwaukee will be the one!


  1. Eventually I will run Chicago, but for now I would prefer a smaller race.

  2. 26.2 is 26.2 and your PR's at other distances don't prove anything. The only thing that shows you are capable of running a specific time for a marathon is to run that time. The rest is just numbers on paper.

  3. I did the Nike Women's in SF and loved it! Yes, it is mostly for people there for the experience rather than a race, but the hills stop around mile 12 and the course and weather are beautiful! As long as you get up front at the start you could definitely PR there.

  4. Anonymous- if you feel so strongly about this then why don't you post under your own name? My PRs at other distances are a huge indicator of the gains I have made over the past three years and it's not at all logical that a 10-minute drop in the half marathon would equate to zero gains at the marathon level. You don't do well in the marathon because of luck, but you can certainly fail because of luck.

  5. You are so thoughtful and deliberate about everything you do. I wish I could be more like you. You have had a very long string of bad luck at marathons, so I hope all of the other factors come together this time, so that your running tells its own story.

  6. it sounds like you are putting a LOT of thought and effort into making sure that you are in the best possible environment for a full. here's to an injury-free training cycle!

  7. Great post! I agree with you about your gains in other places not equating to what you've seen in the marathon. I'm in a similar boat. Very excited to see what happens in October for you!

  8. I like the smaller marathons for racing too! This looks like a winner for you and you certainly thought it out! I'm so happy your back running!

  9. You will like Milwaukee. Go get em!!

  10. That's awesome, you're heading to my state! :) I'm in Madison, about an hour and a half from Milwaukee. Good luck to you in your training. Seems like you have it all well thought out.

  11. Wow you had a bad stretch here with marathons and the heat issue (which from what I read today, you seem to handle it a little better now than you did then, or maybe your body has adapted.) I'm going in order (outside of the current because that would be just wrong to not acknowledge) and seeing that synopsis at the end... Well I can understand some things I maybe am about to read soon!!