Sunday was the inaugural Milwaukee Running Festival here in town, and also part two of the Fleet Feet Brew City Marathon Challenge for me (you got an extra shirt & medal FO’ FREE from Fleet Feet Brookfield if you ran Lakefront & the MRF marathon, so obviously…).
When the opportunity to pace the 5:00 marathon group came up, I was all over it. I was a little nervous to run another marathon within one month in the first place (due my injury proneness) so this seemed like the perfect way to not have to stress out about the “racing” the course, which I know I would have done no matter what I told myself (if I wasn’t pacing).
I got to the start line area around 6:15 to meet up with the other pace groups. My first co-pacer showed up a few minutes later and we talked aimlessly until we could start lining up. There are no corrals for this race, just estimated pace signs along the side, so we headed to the 11-12 minute area and settled in with the 2:30 half marathon pace group (more on that in a minute). Right away, an older man spotted us, said “my friend was looking for you!” and ran off. A few minutes later he came back with the aforementioned friend (Patti, who was the best!!) and introduced her to us. A few other people around us asked us about our pacing plans, i.e. what we would do through aid stations, if we would slow down on the hills (OH, the hills…), etc. By then it was pretty much time to go!
To be honest, I hadn’t really put a lot of thought into this race prior to actually standing at the start line. I was having some weird foot/ankle/everything pain and hadn’t ran a ton in between Lakefront and vacation and the start of MRF. I did run some, and got a few good runs in, but still, I didn’t know what to expect from myself. I also never practiced at the 5 hour pace (11:27ish) so I wasn’t sure how I would fare on that front either. Even while the race was underway, I never really had the thought like, oh, I’m running a marathon right now. It never felt that way (if only all my races felt this way too, ha!!).
My first co-pacer (they switched out at the halfway point) and I were pretty much on point with our pace throughout most of that first half. Memorable spots about the first half of the course were aplenty! There was a long gradual hill from miles 3-4 (ish), which most Milwaukeeans know well, and most Milwaukee runners despise (just me? well, I think it sucks). Lots of neighborhoods that I typically drive through but not run through were also included in the first half, and it was super fun to see them from a different (also, slower) point of view. We also got to run downtown which is another thing I just don’t do because traffic and pedestrians and just no.
The first half really flew by and up until then we had a pretty consistent group of runners with us. Though around mile 9 the half marathoners split off to close out their race which did take our group down a few. It was nice that the courses remained the same for so long because it added to the energy of the race, at least I thought so. We ran a windy (I meant that to say windy as in twisty, but it was also extremely windy during this part as well) path through a park, and then it was time for my co-pacers to switch out.
It was also around this time that we lost the couple runners that had been with me through the start, which made me super sad! I was really hoping I could bring them along for the whole race. We picked up a few other people who ran with us here and there, but with a new pacer, our pace consistency started to suffer.
The miles between 14ish through 20 or 21 were pretty boring in comparison to most of the first half. This is also where a lot of the rolling hills came in. Running through Miller Valley is always fun to me, you’re basically running a lot of the Brewers Mini Marathon course backwards for awhile though at this point, so it didn’t thrill me. After awhile though, we ran near Miller Park and then after a few more miles dumped out near another park (I was seriously lost most of this entire time, if you can’t tell). We got to run on the Hank Aaron State Trail for awhile which oddly I have never been on and it was really beautiful! Then we ran around some unknown (to me, like I said… lost) football field, which felt like actual heaven on my knees at this point.
Shortly after that, we ended up back in the Third Ward, got some really good views of the city, and were nearing the end of the race. SERIOUSLY this thing flew by for me, which just goes to show how much fun running can be when you don’t take it so seriously all the time. 5 hours (4:58:11 if we’re being technical) felt like nothing, whereas the 4:09 hours during Lakefront felt like serious hell every step of the second half.
Per my Garmin, I had been about a tenth to a quarter mile ahead of each mile marker on the course, up until mile 24 & 25, which came up extremely short. This messed with our pace a little (a lot, actually) bit. Other pacers confirmed they had the same problem as well, which made me feel a little better. By the time I knew the finish line was coming up, I knew we would come in ahead of 5 hours, but we tried to keep it within at least 2 minutes of that time. Which we did… just barely. Sadly, no one from any of our groups came in with us, but I know a few of the girls we picked up near the end finished ahead of us — so I was super happy about that!
All in all, this was a great race. The course support was absolutely fantastic and every aid station was so well supported with upbeat and encouraging volunteers. The weather could not have been more perfect. I personally am glad that it wasn’t my first marathon, in the way that I think I would have gotten discouraged by the difficulty of the course, but that’s just because I’m lazy and beat myself up easily 😉 But I would definitely return to pace and/or have a fun, casual race through my favorite city in the world.
Some of my only feedback in terms of improvement for the race related to the medal, which I had seen several other people comment on as well. I love it and I love the design of it, however half marathon and marathon finishers received the same medal. While it doesn’t particularly matter to me, I think I would have been especially disappointed if this was my first marathon as it didn’t commemorate that well. I had heard that this was due to budget, but I feel as though there were other things that could have been cut to at least make the ribbon of the medals differentiate between the 2 distances. But obviously I have no idea what kind of money/budgeting goes into these type of massive events, so what do I know! Other than that… it was all in all an absolutely perfect day of running in the city of Milwaukee, and I think everyone who ran as well would agree 🙂