Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wisconsin is in the Bag!

The Cheese State has been conquered! 

Race day morning and I awoke to find the city enveloped in a light fog.  It was drifting in off of Lake Michigan and lent an eerie sort of atmosphere to the race start.

I knew that, immediately out of the "gate," we'd be faced with the long uphill slog as we scaled the Hoan Bridge, a massively imposing structure that seems to dominate the landscape near downtown Milwaukee.

We ran that bridge twice: heading south and then immediately turning around and heading north.  The total distance round-trip on that bridge was 5 miles.   So 2 miles of uphill.  Because of this, I already knew that I'd be walking a fair amount in those first 5 miles.   So this would work against my getting a sub-three hour time in.

Elevation chart of the race route

But long, steep ascent of that bridge aside, it was kinda cool to run on this massive bridge!  What was especially cool was the view of the skyline, still enshrouded in patches of fog as we ran back toward town.  Also cool was the fact that once the bridge was conquered, we were more than a third of the way to the finish line!

Southbound, we ran in the northbound lanes. 
Long, long uphill stretch!

Southbound, near the peak of the bridge.

Returning northbound.  An even longer uphill stretch.

The next two miles of the route ran along the shore of the lake on Lincoln Memorial Drive, and it was flat and smooth, if unshaded.  Then we turned left onto Lafayette Hill Rd and climbed a steep, but short hill to get up above the lake.  Once up the hill, we ran along Terrace Ave, a street lined with fabulous mansions overlooking Lake Park with a vista of the lake below.  It was a beautiful stretch of the course! 
Up Lafayette Hill Rd

Just past the beautiful St. Mary's Hospital, we turned onto Oak Leaf Trail, a pedestrian and bicycle path that followed the edge of the bluff.  Along the way, we had occasional glimpses of the lake below.  The North Point lighthouse sits right on this trail, a nicely restored historic building.  The trail eventually connected us back up with Lincoln Memorial Drive at mile 9.

Now we were heading back toward town and the finish line.  Just 4 more miles to go!  The next two miles had a nice gradual downhill grade and I was surprising myself by how much I was able to run at this point in the race despite the lingering chest cold and lack of training. 

At mile 11 we turned off the road and into Veterans Park.  The last two miles seemed to stretch on forever!  This illusion was magnified by the fact that our race route passing through this park was not straightforward, but had turns and bends and one double-back.  It seemed almost cruel torture to not be able to actually see what direction we would ultimately be heading. 

All along the way we were greeted by enthusiastic water station volunteers, but little else.   The city of Milwaukee has not embraced this race in its newness, so there were no spectators, there was very little entertainment, and not much hoopla at all. 

The finish line finally appeared and although I was most glad to cross that final timing mat, I was a little dismayed at how barren the finish line area appeared.  There were no volunteers there cheering us or congratulating us, a scene so totally different from what I've experienced at all of the other marathons and half marathons I've participated in. 

I kept moving in a forward direction, but there was no indication that I was going in the right direction.  About 50 yards down the empty chute I finally found the guy giving out the finisher's medals.  Then I wandered another 30 or so yards through an open barren space and found the truck on the right side giving out chocolate milk.  There seemed to be absolutely no sense of "finish line excitement" here.  It was as if the volunteers just gave up after a couple of hours and the whole finish line area just seemed to fall apart.  Usually, no matter how large or small the event is, there's a whole phalanx of volunteers greeting us on the other side of the finish line, congratulating the runners, ushering us toward the medals, the water and Gatorade, the snacks or food. 

This is a new race - 2012 is only its second year - and the organizers still have a lot to learn.  Milwaukee itself needs to embrace the event and incorporate it into the fabric of the city. 

I finally found the finish line photographer, and stood in front of the backdrop and let him take my picture.  Then I continued moving forward, expecting to see tables with snack foods for the finishers, but, next thing I knew, I was about to exit the runner's area and still hadn't seen any tables bearing food or snacks. 

I walked back the way I came until I found someone in a yellow volunteer's shirt and asked him if there was any food.  He pointed off to the left and said there was food "over there."  But "over there" meant the food merchants in the large commercial lakeside park area outside of the finishers' area, not finish line food.  "No, I mean finishers' snacks," I said. He had no clue and just shrugged his shoulders.  I couldn't even figure out where I was supposed to redeem the little tear-off coupon on my race bib for that free beer.

Disgusted with the whole finish line experience, I found my way out of the fenced-off finish line area and headed back the mile to the hotel.

But I didn't let that finish line experience dampen my feelings of pleasure at having finished yet another half-marathon.  One more state added to my list of completions, and one more state closer to accomplishing my goal of 50 states-50 half marathons!

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