Between triathlon training and now preparing for the Chicago marathon, no effort was put into specifically preparing for ECS Wisconsin. After a small foot injury post-Ironman 70.3 Canada I decided to heavily revamp the way I trained to build a stronger aerobic base. This meant slowing myself down and allowing an easy zone 2 effort for much of my running. With an emphasis on going long and building aerobic adaptation, I felt disconnected from the speed necessary to perform at my best in a shorter distance event such as the marathon relay. However, a dabble of speed with Monday Run Club gave me the little boost of mental confidence I needed to feel that I could still attain a solid result. After all, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t bringing my team down, especially already being the slowest member of the team.
The alarm went off at 6:45am on Saturday morning. With the race starting at 10:00am, and a sizeable chunk of time until I would run near 11:30am, I decided a large breakfast would be necessary to sustain my energy levels throughout the morning and into the run. After eating and getting some last-minute packing in order, I met Ben and Taylor (two of my teammates) to drive to the race start. Upon arrival to the Ottawa Lake Recreation Area I was greeted by many friends from both my November Project Tribes — Madison and Chicago. This really swept me up into the spirit of November Project summit which was going on at the race. After a long wait in line to pick up our race packet it was already almost time for the race to start!
My team consisted of fellow November Project-Madison tribesmembers Taylor, Ben, Aaron, and myself. We decided to split up the legs in the following order: Ben, Taylor, myself, Aaron. With some input from (Coach) Aaron, I planned out my individual race strategy on Friday evening. The following factors were considered when planning:
- It would be fairly hot by the time I was running (low-mid 80s).
- The course would be flat on the first and last miles with long hills in miles 2 and 4 and rolling hills throughout the middle portion of the run.
Based on the course and weather, we decided that the best course of action would be to set out at an aggressive pace for the first mile along the highway. Once the hill hit at the end of mile 1/start of mile 2 I would back off to a comfortable pace. Throughout the middle of the course I would maintain an uncomfortable yet manageable pace. This would set me up for the ability to really push it coming down the hill into the last mile.
Ben was the first runner up to run against a field of competitive looking athletes. Knowing that Ben’s natural habitat was the woods, Taylor was ready to meet him close to 40 minutes after the start. Running with a time of 38:48, Ben came back in first place overall. As Taylor ran off, I began to slowly prepare myself mentally and physically to race. I expected Taylor to come in somewhere around 50 minutes, so with 20 minutes to go I went off for a small warmup that consisted of a jog, some strides, and dynamic stretches. After 50:39, Taylor came in maintaining first place in the mixed gender category and I was quickly off onto the highway to begin my leg.
Settling into a pace of around 7:20/mile for the first mile, I began to feel the burning in my lungs from the disconnect of running at such a fast pace. Turning off the highway onto the long hill into the woods, doubts began to creep in my mind. Despite slowing myself down the hill felt endless. I continued to push through, and before long I was at the first aid station. I poured some water down my back in an attempt to cool down and got some encouragement from Carly as I continued the run. The middle of the run was a blur, but the feeling of passing many of the runners still running the second leg of the race was fairly encouraging. At mile 4 I heard the footsteps of a runner approaching behind me and as he passed I realized it was Alex Francis, a speedster from Milwaukee on another mixed gender team. Now in second place I felt the push to try my best in an attempt to keep Alex’s teams (the Dairy Heirs) lead to a minimal margin. As I ran out of the woods onto the last mile along the highway, the heat from the exposed sun began to really take its toll. Despite the conditions, I continued to give it all I had as I ran into the transition area with a pace of 7:15/mile to pass off the ankle chip to Aaron. I ran the 10k in a time of 50:26, and we were now in second place in the mixed team relay. Exactly 4 minutes behind the Dairy Heirs.
Although we were now in second, I felt fairly confident that Aaron could make up the time difference. Being the superstar he is, Aaron did not only make up that 4 minute time differential, but also put in an extra 3 minutes to run through the finish in first place of the mixed gender teams and third place overall (time of 41:34). Thus, we finished the entire marathon relay with a time of 3:01:27.
After some downtime and cooling off in the lake, it was time for the awards ceremony. The moment our team was called up to the podium was absolutely priceless and seeing our goofy smiles in the photos was just as great. Not only did we win some cool hardware, but we got to crowdsurf over a bunch of our November Project friends on our way off the podium.
The race on Saturday was absolutely magical. There is no better feeling than being able to run well and share the performance with your best friends. My personal performance was a breath of fresh air that my new training strategy is working. Although I will be looking to reconnect further with speed in the future, the fact that running slow with minimal speedwork still allowed me to put in this performance was no coincidence. Every test of performance I get is an opportunity to learn, so I will take the highs and lows of ECS Wisconsin and use them to continue to mold myself into a stronger athlete.