Sunday, April 7, 2013

Trailbreaker Half Marathon Race Report

Yesterday, I headed over to Waukesha, Wisconsin, (outside of Milwaukee, more or less, for those not in the know) for the Trailbreaker Half Marathon and ended up with 18 miles for the day.  

The whole decision to run the Trailbreaker was very last-minute in nature.  Seeing as I actually had 20-22 miles on the training plan, the idea of doing a Half Marathon was actually not very well timed.  However, as luck would have it, it was one of my fellow running Peep's birthday yesterday and seeing as she wanted nothing more than a bunch of folks to head down and do this race, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity.  Leading up to the race, I couldn't quite figure out how I was going to get my miles in - or even if it was a very good idea to try after being sick - but I left the how, what, where and why's for later, packed a bag for all possibilities and just trusted I would figure it out.

So, yesterday morning the alarm went off at 4 a.m. - a very rude awakening after two nights of very little sleep. After a quick breakfast and coffee making, it was time to hop in the car and head to our first rendezvous point to meet up with three of my running peeps.  From there it was on to rendezvous point #2 to meet up with two other running friends before continuing on to the race.  We got to Waukesha just after 7 a.m., which was perfectly timed for the marathoners' 8 a.m. start. 

The Trailbreaker Marathon is in its 21st year, but has somehow remained small.  Yesterday's marathon race only had 184 finishers.  (The Half had 588.) Now maybe this is because at one point this marathon was listed as one of the top 25 toughest marathons in the USA, but the fact is that if you want a marathon with a lot of crowd energy and support, then you might want to look elsewhere.  The Trailbreaker has more of a home-grown feel to it, but what it lacks in crowd and spectator support, it makes up for with the fact that it offers a very personal feel.  I think the volunteers and race personnel actually care what you think.  They are truly happy to be putting on this event, which raises money for the local parks system, and it shows.  

There is quite a gap between the start of the marathon and the half marathon.  While this was a bit inconvenient for our crew, four of whom were doing the full marathon and two of whom (including myself) were doing the half, arriving for the start of the full offers a distinct advantage.  Since most of the half marathoners have not arrived by 7 a.m., parking was a breeze as well as everything else associated with pre-race activities.  Packet pickup was wide open, there were no real lines for the bathrooms, and the huge (and warm!) building offered ample room to spread out while waiting for the start, which was located right outside.  (Things would be very different when the Half started.)

Given that I had so much time before the start of my race, I opted to try to get in at least six miles beforehand.  Since I was a little worried about getting lost if I tried to head out on my own, I decided I would just tag along with the marathoners, trusting that if I followed the course I would be able to find my way back. So, after picking up our race packets, shirts, and goody bags, I got myself ready to run.  While Peep El. hung out at the car, waiting for the Half Marathon start, I left off my number and timing chip and then lined up with my fellow Peeps doing the marathon.  But not this kind of "lined up"...

The start of the marathon (and half) has you heading out of the park opposite the direction the race actually goes.  You then cross a bridge, make the turn onto the path by the river and then start heading out on the out-and-back course.  The first couple of miles follow the river as it wends its way through town, before cutting away from it and eventually spitting you out onto the Glacial-Drumlin trail somewhere around Mile 3.  This was where I left my friends to enjoy their marathon.  For me, it was time to head back for the start of the Half.  I was a little worried about being on my own to find my way back, as there had been a lot of little twists and turns and the course wasn't emblazoned with flashing neon markers (like I had secretly hoped).  Luckily, police and/or volunteers were on almost every corner, and I was able to ask for directions once when I needed them.  

The race course does not follow the exact route back to the start/finish area as it did going out.  Instead of crossing a bridge and going back down the far side of the river, which results in you overshooting the start area and circling back, the homestretch keeps you on the same side of the river as the finish.  The result is that you lose a mile on that section.  The result for me was that instead of getting in six extra miles before my event, I only got in five.  As it was, I got back to the car for a quick change of clothes and a snack with about 30 minutes to spare before my race start.  Waiting in line at the now congested bathrooms, however, sucked away most of that time and before I knew it it was time to go.

My fellow Peep El. and I were particularly well matched for running the Half together yesterday.  With my extra miles and El.'s PR at a 5K race the night before, neither of us had the freshest of legs.  Despite that, though, we started out well enough.  In fact, too well.  Although we had sort of planned on doing a run/walk for the event, we ended up running the first seven miles basically straight through except for walking through the couple aid stations.  It seems we were both thinking we were following the other person's lead.  Once we figured out that neither of us was really in charge and that neither of us really wanted to be going that fast, we slowed down considerably.  At Mile 7, we finally decided to go to the run/walk strategy that had always been intended and opted to walk a minute every mile.  That quickly became walk a minute (or so) every half mile, as we - finally - just collectively burned out.  Like I said, we were a good match yesterday.  

Here are the splits:

1- 9:54
2- 9:54
3- 10:08
4- 10:48 (waited at intersection)
5- 11:59 (waited at intersection)

Half Start:

6- 9:47
7- 9:42
8- 9:53
9- 10:54 (first aid station)
10- 9:50
11- 10:20 (finally decided we were doing the wrong pace)
13- 11:39 (about where we both crapped out)  :)
14- 10:58
15- 12:58
16- 13:06
17- 11:57
18- 12:22

18.1 in 3:17:46

Despite the burnout, I have to say I really enjoyed the Trailbreaker and especially the course.  The first three miles fly by somehow with the course following the river and wending its way through a nice part of town.  From about mile 3 to 11, you are on the Glacial-Drumlin trail, a paved converted trestle trail, which is pleasant to run on.  It's a bit more scenic than town, and the smooth path didn't have any tripping hazards you had to be wary of.  If there was any downside to the trail, it would be the monotony of it after a while.  I mean, this stretch is STRAIGHT (that's right, I mean all caps straight).  Of course, to keep it positive, it was flat, too, and that part was nice.  There were three or four aid stations on the trail, most of which you hit twice.  They had the usual Gatorade and water, but also orange slices, which I tried for the first time and found really good.  I'll have to keep that in mind for my ultra.  

Although El. and I slowed down quite a bit, I think this race is a really good one for someone looking to PR a Half Marathon.  As stated, the course is flat and pretty straight for the bulk of it.  Also, as I am a fan of breaking things up into chunks (it helps me handle the distance better mentally), it should be noted that this race is ideally suited to that: three miles along the river and through town, four miles out on the trail, four miles back on the trail, and then just two miles to the finish.  It's all manageable somehow.

Since I didn't do the marathon, I cannot personally attest to how that went.  I know that this year's course was altered from what they normally do, due to ice on the Ice Age Trail.  Go figure.  I guess it was living up to its name somehow.  So, the marathon didn't actually go on that more technical trail or go up the tower, as I thought it would.  I have actually decided that I liked the event well enough that I would consider doing the marathon one year when it follows its normal course.  I would have to do some serious stair training, though.

So, all in all, a great event.  The rain that was forecast held off until our drive home, only spitting out a few pleasant sprinkles during the event.  After finishing the Half, El. and I got changed and then checked out the lay of the land.  A need to prioritize what was important to us had us missing out on the free massages offered; we opted to have free beer and watch for our friends at the finish instead.  There was just not time to do it all.

Once our marathoning friends were done, it was time to head out of town.  On the way home, we grabbed some lunch in Pewaukee at the Good Harvest Natural Food Store and Cafe and drove out to the tower that the marathoners had missed out on for a look see.  After that, it was time for the long drive home, dinner, movie with the family and then finally sleep.

I don't think I have ever done a race that resulted in such a long day of driving, racing, driving, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  It's definitely not the easiest way to go about things, though, and given the givens if I have a choice I would rather stay at a hotel the night before a big event.  But, seeing as I didn't care what my results were for this race, I didn't mind the logistics involved with getting there.  And, the chance to spend some time with friends was worth it.


  1. Good job Shannon with sticking to your training program and adding on the extra miles. What made you decide to tack on the extra miles before the race instead of after?

    1. Thanks! Basically, the race itself decided it for me. The marathon started at 8 a.m., but the Half didn't start until 9:30. With so much time to kill I knew I would either get antsy or just plain tired waiting for my race start. Plus, I wasn't sure how fast my marathoning friends would be. I hated the idea of them finishing and then waiting for me. (As it turns out, I would have been fine time-wise.) If I had it to do again I probably would have raced first and then seen how I felt, but all in all I am not unhappy woth how things went. :-)

  2. Good on you for doing those extra miles, so easy to not do them! The trail sounds really neat and so does the event, I like the feel of smaller events too.

    We used to have oranges at half time during hockey when I played (it's field hockey where I live, not ice hockey!) and they were great. I forgot all about them until you mentioned, so must add them to my long run fuel list!

    1. Orange slices aren't something that would have occurred to me to try, given the acidic nature of oranges (or at least my perception of them being acidic), however, my stomach wasn't too happy with me anyway, so I thought I didn't have anything to lose. As it turns out, they were really good and I'll definitely try them again. :)