Waking up Saturday, you could not have asked for a more beautiful day to race. The sun was blazing, the temps would hover in the mid 40’s to mid 50’s, and the wind was almost nowhere to be found. Arriving at Nicolet Bay Beach, I did a super slow 2 mile warmup, a few starting line strides, and we were off.
I started in the lead pack, running alongside the eventual race winner-Dominick Meyer-for the first few miles. Dominick was a super nice guy-really chatty-but with as much energy as he had, it became clear very quickly that it was his race to lose.
The course’s first few miles are flat, and with a very moderate headwind, but I wanted to waste no energy on a fast start I’d pay for later. We hit mile 1 in 5:41, just slightly off my goal mile pace of 5:38.
We picked it up ever so slightly on the next mile, hitting a too fast 5:30 on a slight decline as the course began to wind away from the water, into the park. I realized quickly that pace was too fast for what was coming, and reigned it in as we again ran the course’s few straightaways.
We hit mile 3 in 5:35, and Dominick jumped out at this point, extolling me to come along. I knew his pace was too hot, and waved him on as he took the lead he’d never come close to relinquishing. I was running with two other guys at this point, as we maintained our pace and hit mile 4 in 5:36, in what is the last flat patch before the climbing and hills begin.
Maybe the euphoria of my first race here four years earlier gave me selective memory, but I had not entirely prepared for how challenging this course is. The elevation map doesn’t even look particularly intimidating. But starting shortly before mile 4(elevation 592), you’re treated to a mile of slow, sometimes gradual, occasionally brutal climbing, before you finally crest Sven’s Bluff(elevation 745) after mile 5. The hills basically continue until mile 12.
I kept the lead for 2nd until the end of hill, before finally relinquishing it in exhaustion to the guy I’d run with the majority of the race. I came through mile 5 in 5:59, and although I really tried to burn the downhills–I ike the reckless speed and generally can make up ground–I still felt spent. I recaptured 2nd place shortly before mile 6, flying through a downhill in 5:34.
Mile 7 is 2/3 gradual climbing with a short downhill at the end, and I came through in 5:45, slipping into 3rd place as I really began struggling. You’re deep in the wood at this point, mostly alone, and it’s easy to get distracted by your thoughts, which surely would happen for me. The next mile is made up entirely of a very gradual hill, starting at 692 and ending with 740 feet. I was chasing 2nd place by 10 yards at this point, but realistically, shooting for third place. I came through this particularly difficult mile 8 in 5:58.
I was largely sapped mentally and physically at this point–thinking about not only how much THIS race hurt, but how I probably shouldn’t run a race the following weekend because why put yourself through this agony? Silly, dark thoughts when you’re a first class passenger on the pain train. Eventually, the guy who had trailed me the entire race began to respond with a very strong surge, and I knew he had a gear I didn’t. He passed me with almost nary a response, and I would be on my own for the next several miles.
A nice downhill, a little uphill put mile 9 at 5:45, and in the biggest downhill of the course, I did what little I could to come through in 5:35. Mile 11 was another joyless downhill in 5:39, and I finished it up along Lake Michigan with an uphill 5:53, and a “kicking” last mile of 5:41.
I realize I sound like a bit of a downer on this, but I’m really mostly happy with the race. I’m disappointed i missed out on the sweet prizes for the top three(free hotel stays, tons of gift certificates, etc…sigh), I’m bummed I didn’t hit a PR, but on a positive note, my fitness didn’t fail me. I just felt like after the first major hill, I could not get into any rhythm. It’s the most challenging course I think I’ve run in all my races, and looking back over my splits, I think this had PR written all over it given a flatter course. This race remains impeccably organized, and I wouldn’t trade the weekend with friends, family and other runners for anything. I’ll be running it again next year without a doubt, but maybe with tempered expectations.
Final Time: 1:14:54 (5:43 mile pace) for 4th Place
Mile Splits(based on my garmin, these are probably slightly off):
5:40, 5:30, 5:35, 5:36, 5:59, 5:34, 5:45, 5:58, 5:45, 5:35, 5:39, 5:53, 5:41, plus .1 of whatever kick i had.