This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
First, I should point out that I’m the last team member to write about the race. Nikki, Josh and Jerry have already written on their perspectives. To be honest, the weekend got hectic for me and I haven’t read through all of those yet so I hope they were positive reviews. I did see enough, though, to say Nikki’s has the most entertaining visuals if that’s what you’re looking for.
Back in I believe October, Josh emailed me asking if I would be interested in getting a team together to run the Icebreaker relay. I don’t think it took a lot of arm twisting for him to convince me to give it a shot. I sent out some feelers and seemed to have enough interest. After letting the dust settle, we had 3 people (Josh, Jerry and myself) definitely interested and enough interest to convince me it wouldn’t be hard to find a fourth so I registered Team HillRunner.com for the relay with 3 members at the time.
It was more work to get that fourth than I thought but, after a couple starts and stops, we added Nikki, a great add to the team, perfectly fitting in with the rest of us both in personality and competitiveness.
Once the team was set, we discussed relay strategies some. This relay is at the Pettit Center. For those of you not familiar with the Milwaukee area, the Pettit Center is an indoor ice skating facility with an Olympic size long track speedskating oval. They have a 3 lane, 443 meter running track around the perimiter of the ice.
There are a few things to note about this setup:
– For obvious reasons, it’s pretty chilly. It’s been stated that the temperature in there is about 50 degrees. To me, it feels more like the 40s.
– It’s much better for running a marathon than spinning circles around your standard 200 meter indoor track. Plus the turns are more gentle than even a 400 meter outdoor track.
– The only rule as far as exchanges go for the relay is that the chip has to be on your ankle and has to cross over the chip mat the prescribed number of times. In other words, you can exchange as frequently or infrequently as you want. The catch is that you have to change the chip. It was on a velcro strap you would put around your ankle and the suggestion was that it wouldn’t take long if a third person switched the chip between the incoming runner and the outgoing runner.
I picked up Josh on my way in since his place is along the way. When we arrived at the Pettit, we found a parking space and headed inside. We found a place to put our bags, then I headed upstairs to pick up our team packet while Josh camped out watching for teammates. I saw Chris and Dana at packet pick-up and they had our team pegged as one of the favorites in the mixed division. I wasn’t so sure about that but, the competitive type I am, that got me a bit fired up. I went back down, found Josh, and after talking a bit we went to the other side of the track to see if we could find a better spot to camp out on. As we were trying to figure out where to go, Nikki appeared. We chatted for a while with Nikki and a friend of hers who was there to run on a different team. Her friend suggested we should find a spot on the rubber mat we were standing on so we wouldn’t end up on the cold concrete floor. Eventually, we decided to just drop our stuff where we were talking and claim that spot. Shortly after, Jerry arrived and our team was complete. Jerry brought a couple folding chairs, a very good idea, and set them up along the back wall where we had our things. Our team camp was now set and we relaxed some while watching the half marathon finish up.
After the half marathon completed, the track was open for relay runners to warm up. I did a bit of running with Nikki and it wasn’t hard to tell her competitiveness was every bit as strong as anyone else on the team. I had already figured out that, after the initial reservations and formalities present when meeting new people, she was a good fit personality wise with the rest of the team. Relaxed and fun loving, she’d be a good fit. After enough running to warm up, I stepped off and did some mobility drills to loosen up. Then it was time to get a bit of faster running on to stretch out the legs. Jerry was coming by so I jumped on the track with him and he was going a solid pace. Perfect to stretch out the legs. I ran with him a bit, then stepped off to make sure Nikki, or leadoff runner, had our chip. Then I went back to the track and did a lap at a pretty solid pace to really open up the legs and make sure I was ready to race. I did a couple strides well away from the starting area, then the race started.
Our virtually last minute plan was for everyone to run 12 legs of roughly 2 laps each. Nikki would lead off and take a little short of 2 laps, then Josh, Jerry, me. Then we’d repeat 2 laps for each runner until the last leg, when someone would be shorted a lap and I’d run 2 laps plus maybe 20 yards to the finish line. So Nikki took the opening leg and I could already see her competitiveness coming out. She was working it hard. As she came in, Jerry switched the chip from her to Josh seamlessly and Josh was off. He was also running aggressively and set up Jerry well. I was in charge of exchanging the chip between Josh and Jerry and, trying to rush too much, fumbled around for what seemed like forever before getting Jerry started. He was also running pretty aggressively so I knew what I had to do. No conservative start and building into it. I was going to be all in.
Nikki handled the exchange well and I was off. I went out aggressively for the first 100-200 meters, before reminding myself that this was the first of twelve 1/2+ mile repeats and settling in. There were a lot of people on the track I was passing but traffic didn’t seem to be too much of an issue. I cruised through my first pretty uneventful leg, then came into the exchange a little hot. I had to hit the brakes pretty hard in order to stop by Josh, who was handling the chip exchange.
For a while after that, things were pretty uneventful. We all settled into controlled but aggressive paces, exchanges went well. The only thing I noted was that my legs were tightening up between my runs. I settled into a routine of finish and head straight to our camp where I would roll out my legs with my Stick that I’m so glad now I brought. Then I’d come back and watch the exchange to Josh before stretching a bit, handling the exchange to Jerry before stretching a little more, then getting ready to run.
I wasn’t paying much attention to how fast I was running but I would occasionally check the finish line clock. Whenever I did, I was running about 1:31-1:32 per lap, a fair bit faster than I had planned but I felt like I was settling into a nice rhythm. I don’t know if I was always running those lap times or I was subconsciously pushing a little harder because I knew I was getting a split. Either way, I was moving well and so was the whole team. If I recall, at what I figured to be about the halfway point, I had a split that had us at about 2:45 pace. Very solid. I thought a 2:50 would be a very good day for us and we had some cushion on that.
Somewhere around the halfway point, we began paying more attention to our standings and the other teams. We were 12th overall and 2nd in the mixed division, with 1st on the same lap as us and 3rd a fair distance back. As I’m always thinking look ahead, not back, I said let’s stay as close as we can to that 1st place team. You never know what might happen in the second half. It was hard to pick out the team ahead of us, though, because it was a Marquette Running Club team and there were at least 3 different Marquette Running Club teams in the race. Jerry figured out it was team number 37 and we had our eye on them. They weren’t coming back to us but we were generally holding steady on them.
It wasn’t until late in the race that I got passed for the first time. I was running down the home straight with runners staggered through lanes 2 and 3 so I was in lane 1 (you were supposed to use lane 3 when not passing and only drop into the lower lanes to pass). Then someone blows by me on my right shoulder. I glanced at him and realized it was like my old college days. Matt Thull had just went by. For about 2 steps, I attempted to go with. Then I thought better of it and decided my goal was to just stay as close as I could. I thought I did a good job of that, only losing maybe 20-30 yards on him over the nearly 2 laps I was staring at his back.
Later in the race, I got passed by a member of the second place overall team. I immediately attached to him, thought about passing a couple times but didn’t, then finished my leg right on his shoulder. Those were the only two times I got passed all day so I’m going to call that a pretty successful day in that regard.
By my final 2 legs, I was telling myself throw all caution to the wind and just run my hardest. I don’t think that changed the pace I was running but it allowed me to maintain. In fact, in my last leg, I timed my first lap from finish line to finish line and it was again a 1:31. At that point, though, I knew we could go under 2:43. I crossed the finish line in the low 2:41:20s. Another 1:30 lap and we’re in under 2:43. What a great team run that would be. I got a little juiced when the announcer called out that HillRunner.com was on our last lap and tried to use that energy to run a little harder. I’m not sure I got going faster, though. I tried sprinting as hard as I could for the last 150, I know someone said nice kick, but again I don’t think I was actually going faster. I crossed the finish line in the 2:42:50s and Josh said he had my last two laps in 1:32, 1:31. So more of the same. No complaints, though. We all left it out on the track. I was amazed seeing my teammates coming in on their last legs how hard they were working.
Our final result was 12th overall, 2nd in the mixed division, with a 2:42:50 chip time. In my opinion, a great run and our team with an average age of 39 was only 3:14 behind the collegiate runners who won our division which is a very solid result.
I can’t thank Nikki, Josh and Jerry enough for running with me on Saturday. I’m very honored and proud to have had them representing HillRunner.com and it was a very fun experience.