The July 28th Heatbreaker Half Marathon is the little sister to the January Icebreaker Marathon held at the Pettit National Ice Center
. The Heatbreaker offered 4 heats: 7am, 10am, 1pm, and 4pm, on the indoor running track in the climate controlled Olympic Training facility. Runners could choose which heat they wanted to run. Runners could also choose the Two Alarm Challenge, which included running 2 heats, the Three Alarm Challenge (you can guess what this entails), or the Inferno which was running all 4 heats. Only the first heat would be competitive, meaning overall awards were only for runners in the first heat.
Race director, Chris Ponteri organizes both races offering a unique option to escape the unpredictable weather of Wisconsin. Running in 50 degree temperatures in July and January around here is something mother nature will not provide.
The running track is just a tad over a quarter mile around. A half marathon takes 47.6 laps to complete. Chip timing is used to count every lap, and our number of laps completed is displayed on a monitor next to the track. Bill Schneider and Brian Volkman would announce each person when they had a few laps left, as well as when we were on our last lap.
I was curious to know what it would feel like to run four half marathons in one day. I have run a few trail 50 milers, and one road 50 miler, but those were continuous. I wondered if doing 50+ miles in four chunks would be harder or easier. My strategy would be to run the first one hard, the second one relaxed, the third one somewhere in between, and then just survive the fourth one.
But, when it came time to sign up, I chickened out, and opted for the Two Alarm challenge. I wanted to run the first one competitively, and the second one for fun.
I did however, negotiate a deal with the race director, that allowed me the option to change my mind and run more heats if I wanted. When I arrived at the Pettit that morning, I learned that one man had signed up for the Inferno, one woman for the Three Alarm, and about 10 opted for the Two Alarm.
The women's field for the first heat included elite runner Stacey Kincaid from Palmyra, and Dominique Beaudin from Mukwonago. Stacey is a sub 3 hour marathoner. Her 2:57 at the Chicago Marathon last year was the 5th fastest marathon time among Wisconsin women in 2011, according to Jim Schmidt's Marathon Honor Roll. Dominique's 3:24 at Lakefront Marathon puts her in spot number 90. Not sure how many women in Wisconsin run marathons, but according to Running USA's statistics, approximately 212,000 women in the USA ran a marathon last year. Making the top 100 for Wisconsin is impressive.
Stacey secured her first place position before the first turn, and finished with a 1:28. Dominique stayed close on my heels for the entire race. She and I finished second and third at just over 1:37, just a few seconds apart.
With just over an hour break before the next heat, I changed into a new set of running clothes, got a Diet Coke, ate a string cheese, quarter of a bagel and half of a banana. My ultra experience has taught me all of these items are tummy-friendly for me.
Training partner Dennis Hanna, a 3-time sub 4 hour marathoner, was signed up for heat number two. He and I ran a steady and relaxed 1:57 together.
I decided I would run heat number three. So, I changed into more dry clothes, had another Diet Coke, and more bagel, banana, etc. My legs were stiff and awkward for the first few laps, but soon I found a rhythm and ran a steady 1:50 for heat number three.
I changed into more dry clothes, and repeated the between-heat feeding ritual, but accepted that 39 miles was a satisfying accomplishment for that day. I spent the entire time between heats waffling on whether or not to start. I eventually decided to start, and do at least 8 laps, and just see how I feel. I am just not sure I want to run for 2 more hours.
A small field lined up for the start of the final heat. Dana Schulz started us off with simply yelling 'Go'. I attempted to command my feet to do some alternating pattern of 'left-right-left-right' that would resemble something called running. It certainly did not feel like running.
It felt like... hmmm... How can I describe this? It felt like every muscle in my body was dialed into a different pace. Whether it was confusion or defiance, my muscles were not cooperating with me or each other.
The first lap was like the first moments of the first concert of the fifth grade beginners orchestra. The trumpets were playing too fast, the clarinets were playing to slow, the violins' bows went up and down with the same grace and timing of the mallets of eight different people playing Wack-a-Mole, and the kid on percussion rivaled Bobby Brady on crack. The conglomerated sound that was forged onto the audience did not remotely resemble anything familiar.
The second lap did not improve. Though effort was made to correct things, it was like the trumpets slowed down too much, the clarinets sped up too much, the violins fought each other for a conclusive tempo.
Though cringing as much as the audience at the fifth graders' concert, I stubbornly continued. After a few more laps, a few neophyte musicians seemed to succumb to the patient determination of the conductor. Not all could comply, but enough unison emerged to yield a recognizable version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Finally, after about eight laps, my motion finally felt a bit like running. I settled into a pace of about nine minutes per mile. I continued to maintain this pace, and just took it a few laps at a time. I eventually finished my final lap for a finish time of 1:55. I truly could not have gone one more lap.
I can say with certainty, that mentally, four half marathons is much easier than one 50 miler. That could be because I had not planned on doing all four heats, and because I felt no pressure to do all 52 miles.
Physically, however, I think both a 50 miler, and four half marathons in one day are equally difficult. The one hour break in between races was a double edged sword. The rest was nice, but my legs definitely stiffened up a lot.
Hans Wegesser of Menomonee Falls also completed the Inferno challenge.
Chris Ponteri does a great job organizing his events. Running at the Pettit offers a unique atmosphere where runners of all abilities are always near each other. Running in a controlled 50 degrees is also a welcome treat in July as well as January. I plan to be back for both Icebreaker and Heatbreaker next year.
I also plan to keep making the Running in the USA cookies for these events.