RunTri.com Racing Coverage By Raymond Britt || Milwaukee, WI || www.badgerlandstriders.org
I have run the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon several times since 1996. It’s an excellent early-October Marathon, and in recent years, it’s been sold out prior to race day. I’ve run fast races there, and some slow ones: My first Milwaukee race in 1996 3:10:09, my first sub-3 hour marathon in 2001, and my second fastest marathon (2:55) in 2003.
Race descriptions call the Milwaukee course ‘flat and fast’. I’d alter it a little. It’s generally flat for the first 16 miles, then begins to toss some long suburban inclines starting at mile 17, with occasional declines, then a steep quad-killer drop at mile 23. That downhill at 23 is not friendly.
The First Half: Getting a Rhythm
While the starting area in at Grafton High School feels crowded, after the starting gun is fired the runners quickly spread out on the extended farmland roads. Soon, you can find yourself running in reasonable peace with a small group of runners in the quiet morning as the sun rises over cornfields. It’s an environment that makes you feel fresh, makes you want to run fast. Careful.
In my first race there in 1996, I ran too fast for my conditioning, reaching 13.1 in 1:28, thinking I would easily break my then-PR of 3:10. The speed killed me in the second half, as I limped to the line seconds short of that PR. In 2001, when I was in better shape and confident I could sustain speed in the second half, I covered the first 13.1 in 1:26, then went on to break 3 hours. In 2003, I was even faster for 13.1 at 1:24 (still my fastest first half marathon), and held to the 1:31 pace in the second half.
So my advice is don’t let the first half lure you to run faster than you know is appropriate. Find a rhythm, as you do on a tempo training run, and stay there. You’ll need the effort you preserved later.
The Second Half: It all Happens There
The course transitions from farmland to suburban streets and neighborhoods along the Lake, and begins to challenge you a little by mile 17. Nothing like the Hills in Boston, but if you’ve been running reasonably fast, the speed will begin to take a toll. In 2001, I said to myself before the race: the goal is to maintain speed through 17; get there, hold it, and you’ve got a chance for sub-3.
In the data below, note that in my first race, I was falling apart by mile 16, and getting worse in 17. It was as bad as the data suggests. A pure meltdown. In 2001 and 2003, you’ll see the pace was strong and holding through mile 19. Then it gets tough. Fatigue sets in, the miles seem longer, any inclines seem tougher.
The best thing to do is to break those last six miles into two. Miles 21-23 meander through neighborhoods, perhaps like the ones you run through for training. Forget you are racing, and run those miles as if it was a training run at home. Get into as comfortable a place as you can.
Because when you reach the lakefront path downhill at mile 23-24, the pain can really hit, and it won’t let go. The downhill, despite what race marketers suggest, does not make you faster. The braking motion with every step puts new unrelenting strain on your quads. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. The finish line is literally in sight: look way, way south. It’s there. Keep going, and the minutes and miles will tick by.
The last half mile is quite enjoyable, as it partly circles the lakefront park. Any difficult times during the day will slip aside as you see the finish line and feel the cheers of impressed spectators. Soon they will be cheering for you. Soon you will be done. And hopefully, with the fast time you wanted. Good luck.