Monday, May 15, 2006

RR Lake Geneva Marathon

Race Report
Lake Geneva Marathon
Lake Geneva, WI
Sat, May 13/06
Marathon #262 State # 42 (2nd loop)
3:48:17 - 22 OA – 1 AG

This marathon was not on my 2006 Marathon Schedule. My first (and only) marathon in May was scheduled for May 20th in ND. However Maddog decided to add a surprise marathon in Wisconsin for two reasons:
a) to add another state to the list of 50 States completed for the 2nd time (# 42)
b) to test my marathon condition prior to starting the summer training program in the Rocky Mtns by running three marathons in one week

So three days after driving from Florida to our summer home in the Rocky Mtns I found myself on an airplane flying to Chicago where I rented a car and drove 75 miles northwest to Lake Geneva, WI. I had never been to Lake Geneva. It is a very pretty area. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. A huge storm front had stalled over the central states and it had been raining for 2 days and continued to rain for the 3 days I visited.

I arrived in Lake Geneva around 8 pm on Fri night – just in time to collect my race package and enjoy a traditional pasta dinner before retiring to bed for the marathon on Sat morning. The race started on the Lakefront Bridge in downtown Lake Geneva at 8 am. The biggest dilemma was what to wear? The forecast called for rain and temps in the low to high 40s F. It was 43 F at 8 am with only a light drizzle. I decided to wear a long sleeve T-shirt and shorts but soon regretted that choice as I was overheated by 3 miles!
The race information described the course as very hilly and challenging? I talked to a few local runners at the start line who informed me that there were hills throughout the entire course and some very steep BAHs (Bad Ass Hills) from miles 14 to 18! I decided that my strategy would be to run an 8:30 pace until I got through the BAHs and then see how I felt for the last 10K?

There were several different races and the Marathon and Half Marathon started together at 8 am with about 800 runners (maybe 200 runners in the marathon)? The course started at lake level and immediately started to climb hills along the south shore of the lake. I passed through the 3-mile mark in 24:42 - a bit too fast! Also problems with the course started to appear. There seemed to be two sets of mile markers at some places and no markers in others? I figured there was an old and new set. Not being sure which was correct I just decided to use the first ones I passed? I slowed my pace and passed 5 miles in 41:29. At 7 ½ miles the marathon and Half split off. The half marathon runners ran a straight tangent along the lake while the marathoners turned south and ran an extra 2 miles before everyone rejoined about the 12 mile mark of the marathon (10 mile mark of the Half). Although the turn-off was marked there was no race marshal or official confirming that the marathoners made the turn. It was easy for a runner to take 2 miles off the marathon?

I did make the turn and suddenly it got very lonely? I could only see 5 runners in front of me and I passed 4 of them before we rejoined the Half marathoners. It seemed strange when I rejoined the runners in the Half because those runners were running a 10-min pace and I was blowing by them at an 8:30 pace? I passed the (marathon) Half in 1:49:50. It started to rain at that point and continued to rain for the remainder of the race but it didn’t really have any effect since we were already soaked. I felt comfortable because I was just under an 8:30 pace. The BAHs started around mile 14 as promised but they were mostly downhill as the course descended to the finish line of the Half marathon at lake level in Fontana. After I passed the finish line of the Half (15 miles in the marathon) the confusion and race got worse! I must have passed that 5th marathon runner by mile 15 because all of a sudden I was completely alone! I couldn’t see any runners in front or behind me? This was not good because now I would really have to concentrate on looking for the course markings that were almost non-existent. And the course started to climb hills from lake level along the north shore of the lake. And they were very steep BAHs! I refused to walk and struggled to keep the old legs moving as I climbed several BAHs! I had to focus on blocking pain and keeping my legs moving - not looking for course markings but I did manage to find some markings but no mile markers until mile 17 which I passed in 2:21:56. However about 5 minutes later I had still not seen any other runners and no course markings and became concerned that I had missed a turn and was lost. I stopped and was on the verge of retracing my route when I finally noticed an arrow/marker on the side of the road and decided to continue along that road? Fortunately as I approached a very steep BAH near mile 18 I saw another runner which made me happy for two reasons:
a) I must still be on the marathon course or we were both lost
b) He looked like an old fart and he was walking up the BAH

I charged up the BAH and as I passed him I figured he was not in my age group –probably 55-59? He tried to respond and stay with me but I continued to charge the hill and buried him! Shortly after I crested the BAH I reached a water stop at mile 18 in 2:29:55. I was still on course but all alone again!

The next 3 miles were confusing and course markers were scarce. There were no race volunteers and I resorted to asking people walking along the streets if I was on the marathon course. Some didn’t know – others confirmed that I was and I just had to trust that they were right. I finally found another mile marker at mile 21 (2:55:14). I figured even if I slowed to a 9-min pace I should finish in 3:40? But at that point the confusion and course went from bad to worse as the course turned off the paved roads on to a ‘phantom’ path along the edge of the lake! I say ‘phantom’ because it wasn’t really a well-defined or public path? It was a path along the edge of the lake though the lawns of private homes on the lake. The path was a few feet wide and made of bricks or flagstones or crushed stones and in some places just grass? After running along this phantom path – with absolutely no course markings for about a mile - the path abruptly ended? I figured I must have missed a marker or turn? I decided I had no choice but to turn around and retrace my steps and look for a turn? Fortunately I had only retraced about 100 yards when a kind homeowner realized that I was confused (or lost) and came out to tell me to turn back around and continue across the lawns where the path ended and I would find the ‘phantom’ path again. He was right. This guessing game continued (with much concern) for another few miles. I was lucky that each time I became concerned that I was indeed lost I would come across a homeowner who would verify that I was still on the marathon course and to continue along the edge of the lake.

Since there were no course or mileage markers on this long section of ‘phantom’ path I had no idea how far the finish line was? After 30 minutes of running on the ‘phantom’ path I figured I must have passed the 24-mile mark? WRONG! About that time I finally did reach a race volunteer who directed me to make a turn off the ‘phantom’ path up to a paved road. He informed me that I had about 1-½ miles to the finish line. However after running for a few minutes on the paved road I reached a mile marker – mile 24!!! Time – 3:27:25! It had taken 32:11 to run from mile marker 21 to 24??? That was not possible unless:
a) the markers were wrong
b) I had indeed got lost and ran extra mileage along the phantom path
c) That section of the course was long – about ½ to ¾ mile long??

It didn’t matter. Even if I ran an 8:30 pace for the last 2 miles I would not break 3:45! I was so disgusted with the race and the course at that point that I decided it made no sense to try to push the pace to make up time! There were still no runners in front or behind me so I decided to jog/cruise the last 2 miles and save my energy for the races next week. Shortly after I began to catch up to walkers? They were walking the marathon course and had started 2 hours early. At least I confirmed that I was still on the marathon course. I passed several walkers in the next mile and at mile 25 the course turned back to the lake - and the ‘phantom’ path! I didn’t care at that point and anyways there were some spectators along that section who kept assuring me that I was on the marathon course.
I crossed the finish line – wet and very pissed off in 3:48:17! At first I wanted to find the race director and kill him - or at least tear a piece off his incompetent ass but I figured that was a waste of my time and energy.

Instead I walked back to my car to get my camera for the obligatory finish line photo and wait for the results to be posted. I talked to several runners who finished before and after me and they all had the same complaints. “The course was poorly managed and marked – they had gotten lost- the course had to be about 1 mile long because they finished about 10 to 15 minutes slower than expected?” After waiting 30 minutes in the rain and cold for the results I decided that they weren’t going to get posted in my lifetime so I retreated to my hotel for a much-needed hot soak to soothe my legs and warm me up. I later returned to the finish area for the awards ceremony. Surprisingly they had posted the results? I had finished 22nd overall and won my age group! The old fart I had passed was indeed in the 55-59 age group and had placed 1st. However he must have crashed or got lost because he finished 16 minutes behind me? I was shocked to learn that 2nd place in my age group finished 50 minutes behind me? Obviously everybody had a bad day on that poorly managed course.

I did collect one of their lame awards – a choice of a baseball cap or a portable 6-pack cooler. I took the cooler!

I am trying not to let myself get upset about this bad experience! It was one of the most poorly organized races and the worst managed course I have ever had the displeasure of running! I will never run it again and I strongly advise/warn all runners to avoid this marathon! There are many other marathons in WI that are better!

Maddog keeps reminding me that there is always an upside to every case of misfortune or adversity. In this case the good news is that since I ran smart and slow my legs were not tired or trashed at the end of the race and should be in good shape for his next challenge: back-to-back marathons next weekend. And the toughest part of the challenge is that he expects me to win my age group in both races!

Stay tuned for the race reports!

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