Okay, everyone. If you read my previous post, you will know that it was all about this running event here in Madison:
Yes, the Crazylegs Classic, which is held every spring in Madison as a fundraiser for the the UW-Madison athletic program. You mean you didn’t know that? You mean you didn’t read my previous post? Well, shame on you for that, so go back there and read about the event itself.
Okay, with all that said, this post is all about my experience on Saturday (April 30), the 35th running of the Crazylegs Classic, and how I got my foot… or rather, feet in the event as first-time participant.
As I mentioned once or twice on this blog in the past, I have gotten into running as a leisurely(?) way to get some exercise. And I set an informal goal to participate in the Crazylegs Classic. Yes, running is a great way to exercise, not to mention that it’s a natural ability almost all of us have. (Isn’t there a pleasant memory in your childhood that involved running from Point A to Point B?) I witnessed part of the 2014 Crazylegs Classic’s start as a spectator, and it struck an inspiring chord in me. Here I was, a man in his mid-40s who wasn’t averse to getting in some exercise (trips to the gym, walks around the neighborhood) but still wanted to gain an accomplishment from my exercising (aside, of course, from getting a somewhat healthier body).
So, I replaced some after-dinner walks around the neighborhood with after-dinner runs, as well as running regularly on the treadmill during my Sunday visits to the gym at work. No, they weren’t major marathon-like runs, but they were the usual 2- or-3-mile runs around my somewhat hilly neighborhood.
Then, last fall, I gained further inspiration after I donated to a fundraising effort involving someone that Male Mode Me follows on social media. I’ll keep this person’s identity a secret, other than to say that she was running in the New York City Marathon to promote her cause. Her running 26.2 miles (and doing so in very admirable fashion) inspired me to go a little further on my treadmill run, going from the 2-3 miles I had been regularly putting in to a grand total of… wait for it… 4.98 miles, roughly the same distance as the 8 kilometers that makes up the Crazylegs Classic.
I would keep up the 5-mile runs during almost every Sunday trip to the gym, including just last Sunday, the weekend before Crazylegs and just a couple of days before I finally got over the procrastination and registered for the run portion of the event. My entry into the 35th Crazylegs Classic would be my very first road race.
The days before the race
My time on that first 5km run I mentioned above was around 70 minutes, running at a near-constant speed of 4.2 miles per hour. I would vary that speed in future runs to try to simulate what I thought I would expect at Crazylegs. Yeah, I would still mostly run in the 4.2-mph range, but I would decrease the speed in spots (to take a quick drink of water) and change the treadmill’s incline to replicate one of the hills that would make up the Crazylegs Classic’s course.
Of course, I didn’t really have an idea of exactly how the route would go, so after work on Tuesday, I drove some of the course after finishing work. Most of the course runs through the UW campus, which includes a rather steep hill called Bascom Hill. Guess where the course runs through? Yep, along the north side of Bascom Hill. I drove on a small street on that hill called Observatory Lane, which runs in not so much a serpentine pattern but more of a corkscrew (straight upward and winding). The over 5-percent grade and the fact that it comes after the start of the race’s 2nd mile kind of freaked me out a little bit. But rather than think to myself, “Geez, what did I get myself into?” I started to really mentally prepare for the race, including a quick 42-minute run around my neighborhood the Wednesday before the race, which included a quick jaunt on a street with a steep hill located a couple of blocks from where I live (the better to prepare for Bascom Hill).
The morning of the race
I drifted awake at around 3:30 the morning of the race in nervous anticipation. I wasn’t worried too much about the race itself. What I did have concern about, though, were the weather reports. The forecasts ran from “Yeah, it’s just gonna be chilly” to rainy to just cloudy to “Oh, don’t worry, the rain won’t move in until after the race finishes.” But when I woke up, the skies were darkening and threatening.
Luckily, I was (somewhat) prepared for the weather: Eschewing the usual t-shirt, shorts, and bare legs I wear at the gym, I went with a hooded jacket with breathable fabric and a pair of running leggings, both of which I had purchased earlier in the week (yes, male mode clothing, I must admit). Even the shoes I ran in were brand new.
Now, while the new hooded jacket with the breathable fabric was somewhat restrictive in movement (even after buying one size down from my usual size), the leggings fit like a glove on me. Heck, it was one of those times Allison was so jealous of Male Mode Me. Indeed, I’m starting to think that I could rock those leggings as Allison… that is, if my feminine closet didn’t have a lot of (non-running) leggings already.
Since it was recommended that the runners arrive at the starting point early, I left the apartment just before 8AM, two hours before the first wave of runners left the starting line (more on that later). Rather than head directly to the starting site on the Capitol Square, I headed to a suggested parking lot (Lot 17, to be exact) next to the finish at Camp Randall Stadium. From Camp Randall, a fleet of buses shuttled participants to Capitol Square. Speaking as a grownup, I will say it felt somewhat weird riding a school bus for the first time since… I want to say my high school days.
Worlds were colliding on the Capitol Square the morning of the race: Not only were the streets set up for Crazylegs, but the sidewalks were occupied with vendors for the Dane County Farmers’ Market, which takes place every Saturday morning from April to November. You can see in the below picture some of the tents for Farmers’ Market, which is an event I’ll try to devote a future blog post to.
It was indeed a chilly morning, with a noticeable breeze coming off of Lake Monona and the hint of rain in the air. That chill and the sight of others around the Square who were bundled up, including some of my fellow runners and walkers (one of whom sported a leather jacket and mittens underneath her official Crazylegs t-shirt) started to make me think, gee, perhaps I’m a little bit undressed even with these running leggings and hooded jacket with the breathable fabric.
Luckily for those like me who wanted a place to stay warm while warming up, the State Capitol rotunda was open. Believe it or not, this was the first time I had ever ventured inside the Capitol building, which is an impressively beautiful structure outdoors as well as indoors. Inside the rotunda — a location famous in recent memory for a series of pro-union protests against the current governor (don’t worry, that’s as political as I’m going to get in this post) — were several runners and walkers conversing, taking photos, and, yes, warming up and stretching.
Though I did have a couple of nice conversations with a few runners inside the Capitol (but I didn’t snap any photos inside, sorry), I admit I started getting some pre-race nerves. It wasn’t so much that fear of doing poorly on the course or even injuring myself so much as it was a lot of nervous energy, especially when I took a few peeks outside to see an increase in the number of later-in-arriving runners and walkers. I was reminded of that process trainers sometimes apply to a racing thoroughbred before a race, when they blindfold a horse as he’s led inside the starting gate if the horse is visibly anxious. The growing crowd and the watch on my hand creeping slowly toward the 10AM start time started me thinking… oh, my god, I’m a horse in need of a blindfold.
Getting ready to start
Of course, I did venture to my starting position at about 10 minutes to 10AM, the time when the walkers started their 2-mile stretch to Camp Randall Stadium and the first wave of runners crossed their start line. I say waves because the 8km run portion of Crazylegs is not a mass start at all. Indeed, the 13,000 or so runners (an estimate the PA announcer mentioned when my group left) were split into several waves, with each wave stepping off one at a time.
So, how do the Crazylegs organizers assign runners to waves? I can’t say for sure, but I presume that it’s based not so much on when you sign up but how fast you think you can run a mile. All entrants who register online are asked about their estimated minutes-per-mile rate. The fastest wave of runners are placed in Group A, which leaves the start line first. The other runners are nominally placed in groups based on the per-mile times they reported during registration, progressively going from fastest to weakest. It’s based not only on their estimated per-mile time but also on the volume of entrants. (I imagine a lot of organized races, from a simple 5km length to a full marathon, utilize similar wave starts.) So, after Group A left, Group B would leave approximately 45-90 seconds later, followed in descending alphabetical order by Groups C, D, etc. and all the way down to my group.
So, you’re asking, “Well, Allison, how do the runners know which group they’re in? And which group were you placed in?” Well, as I discovered when picking up my official race t-shirt and tag the day before the race, the tags included not only a bib number and built-in timing chip but a one- or two-letter indicator that shows which wave we were placed in. And as you can tell from the volunteer holding the sign in the photo at right, this novice road runner was placed in wave “ee” — the very last group of runners in the 35th Crazylegs Classic.
Being placed in wave “ee” meant a lot of time to wait (and to gather my thoughts) before we finally crossed the start line. It also meant being beside a group who were much relaxed than I was. (You see that trio of women in the bus shelter in that photo? They were singing and dancing to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”) I got to converse with fellow runners in my group, which really, really helped to loosen up my mind and alleviate any pre-race anxiety I still had. One lady in my group, who had just given birth 6 months ago, talked about her previous runs, including one time when she ran in a “twilight” (i.e. early evening) mini-marathon a few years ago. By the time she reached Mile 8 of that race, she was pretty thirsty and stopped at what she thought was a water station a fraternity set up as a good deed. Well, she thought it was a water station: She grabbed a cup and downed its contents without realizing that wasn’t water but beer, and that it wasn’t a water station but a kegger party. While the frat bros were shocked with amusement, she wound up running the next mile burping and belching non-stop.
Our bringing-up-the-rear group first assembled on West Washington Avenue between Fairchild and Carroll Streets. As the groups ahead of us left one by one, we serpentined 4 blocks around Carroll to Main Street and up Pinckney Street to the Crazylegs start line, positioned at the intersection of Pinckney and East Washington Avenue. (Here’s a Google Maps depiction of the area to show you what I’m talking about.) At approximately 10:45AM — 45 minutes after the elite runners of Group A had left and long after they had likely crossed the finished line (they’re an elite group after all) — we finally got the air horn to cross the start line and commence our Crazylegs run. We were greeted by a contingent of UW athletes, cheerleaders, and Bucky Badger giving us high fives, along with the usually rousing rendition of “On, Wisconsin!” (the school’s famous fight song) from a UW Marching Band contingent.
Now, I mentioned above that each runner’s bib had a timing chip attached to the back. It’s not so much a chip as it is a computerized strip that cannot be removed or bent if you want to have a correct finishing time. Yes, Crazylegs is indeed a timed race, and that’s why you see some sensors and timing machinery in the above photo of the starting point. Each competitor finished with two sets of times, the net time (measured from the time you crossed the start to the time you crossed the finish) and gun time (measured from the time the first group stepped off). Yeah, I valued the net time more than the gun time, and perhaps the Crazylegs organizers do as well. (Yes, I’ll tell you how I finished later. No, don’t skip ahead.)
That first mile of the Crazylegs run was rather nondescript. Sure, we had to navigate a minor hill, turn a dogleg corner, and go down a smaller incline, but it was a rather easy mile. Perhaps a little too easy for me when I looked down at my watch. I decided to keep my own unofficial time on the stopwatch mode of my watch. Once I crossed that “Mile 1” marker, I looked down and saw that about 10:22 had elapsed. Wow! That’s well ahead of the 13-14 minute-per-mile rate I had done on the treadmill. It was then that I thought back to another thoroughbred analogy: I was no longer a horse in need of a blindfold to calm down; rather, I was like a horse who was ripping to go to an early lead and not heeding my jockey’s pleas to save some energy for later.
I briefly paused to snap this photo just after I crossed the “Mile 1” marker. (“Wow! One mile down! Four to go!”) This was the start of the segment I had been worrying about a little bit, the one that featured Bascom Hill and the steep corkscrew-like climb up Observatory Drive. That view of Science Hall in the distance serves as a little bit of a warning to the Crazylegs runners that they better let up a little because the next quarter mile may be a little bit difficult.
When I navigated a steep upward climb during my preparatory run on Wednesday, I kept reminding myself to lean forward and take smaller strides upwards, then go back to normal strides once it leveled off or even wider strides for the downward hill. Perhaps it was that breakneck pace I put down in Mile 1 that prompted me to abandon those plans: I did try my smaller-stride plan going up Bascom Hill, but when I spotted someone ahead of me just walking up, that’s when I thought it best to just walk up the hill, but use wider strides. Sure, my race time would take a hit, but at least I’ll have a little bit more juice for the rest of the run. That aforementioned someone was dressed as Princess Leia from Star Wars, and I highlight this because she wasn’t the only one in my group in costume. Indeed, a few other college-age kids were also in full-on Star Wars regalia and trying to navigate that steep climb. One of the crew, wearing a Darth Vader robe and twirling around fake light saber, was already up the top of the hill urging them on. “Come on, ‘Chewie,'” he was shouting, “it can’t be that difficult for you in that sweaty costume. At least you didn’t go as ‘Boba Fett.'” (I’ll just presume he was being jovial and not being the drill instructor-type.)
But for every upward climb, there is also a downward climb. Once that steep grade of Bascom Hill leveled off, I went back to my normal run. The rest of that second mile was pretty smooth, and I even turned the jets back on during a small downward climb or two.
Third and fourth miles
“Wow! Two miles down and three to go! You’re doing incredible!”
Yeah, that’s what I was starting to think when I crossed the “Mile 2” marker you see here. I knew that 2nd mile would be a little slower, but looking down at my watch and realizing that I did in 12 minutes really blew my mind.
It’s that stretch from the 2nd through 4th miles where you begin to appreciate some of the beauty of the UW-Madison campus. Gorgeous buildings (well, mostly gorgeous) to the left of the runners, great views of nature and Lake Mendota to their right. That the 3rd and 4th miles of Crazylegs are the flattest on the running course allows you to enjoy the scenery (and the race) a little more.
Miles 3 and 4 were also the part of the course where, I have to admit, my energy started to drain just a little bit. I did feel as if I was going slower than I had in Miles 1 and 2, but I still had the motivation to keep moving forward. And move forward I did, past the UW marching band’s practice field; the facilities where the school’s soccer, track, and tennis teams compete; and the Goodman Diamond, where there was actually a softball game in progress as I was passing by.
Well, I should emphasize the past tense at the end of that last paragraph, because by the time I was running through Miles 3 and 4, there was a pretty good rainfall coming down. Though it was farm from a driving rainstorm, it was steady enough to suspend play in that softball game (they finished play on Sunday, the UW softball team’s home finale). The rain, despite being… well, wet, actually had a cooling, calming effect on me. Sure, I would wake up the next morning with my nasal passages a little bit stuffy, but that would be a small price to pay for putting in an incredible (so far) run.
As I was completing Mile 3 and entering Mile 4, something rather interesting almost happened. There was a water station at that point, and if I was noticing my surroundings correctly, it was the only official water station on the entire course. (Side note of opinion: I was somewhat disappointed that there was no water station until the end of Mile 3. Perhaps the Crazylegs organizers will change that setup in the future.) It was after I crossed that water station (and grabbed two cups) that someone running alongside me alerted a race official that… holy cow, there was someone driving on the race route! Sure enough, I turned my head and about 100 feet behind me was someone driving on the race course in his SUV and wanting to turn into the tennis stadium parking complex. Luckily, the race marshals directed the driver to where he should have been going, and the race was not affected in any way. I caught up with the runner who noticed the SUV, let her know that the matter was cared for… and complimented her for bringing it to the marshals’ attention.
Past the 3.5-mile mark, the race route went under the divided highway of Campus Drive and ventured eastward onto University Avenue. Even though University Avenue had a slight (and not as dramatic as earlier) upward incline, it was by this point that I was definitely telling myself, “Sure, you may have slowed up a little bit, but… oh, yeah, you so got this!” That confidence increased as I reached the marker signifying the completion of the 4th mile and the start of the 5th and final mile. (“A time of 45 minutes so far?! Awesome!”)
The final mile was my favorite stretch of the entire Crazylegs run, and not just because it was the final mile. There were quite a few characters rooting the runners on, from the workers at the car wash manning an unofficial water station to a DJ playing the theme from Rocky at full volume. My favorite part was these crazy characters you see below. I have no idea who they were representing, but upon seeing the signs they were holding up, I couldn’t help but stop for just a second and take a picture. Seriously, their signs are complete rib-ticklers.
Before I knew it, I was turning off of University Avenue, moving southward down Breese Terrace, and turning left into Camp Randall Stadium. There it was! The last 100 yards! Down the tunnel we went, setting foot onto the very field where the likes of Elroy Hirsch, Russell Wilson, J. J. Watt, and Ron Dayne (“Ron! Dayne!”) competed in Cardinal and White.
At this point, you can now ask, “Well, Allison, how did you do?” Well, when I checked my stopwatch as I crossed the line, I could not believe my eyes: A time of just under an hour! Well, :57:22 to be precise. I still couldn’t believe it, but a later check of the unofficial results on the Crazylegs Classic website confirmed it, even shaving off a couple seconds from that time. (My “gun time,” not that it matters to me, was 1:43:25.) No, my performance wasn’t in the elite runners range (the top finishers clocked in at under 30 minutes), but I didn’t mind at all. After thinking — nay, expecting — that I would perform in the same 75-minute range I had been putting in on the treadmills at work, to shatter my expectations really blew my mind.
Yeah, I did feel like celebrating my performance. I could have if I wanted to, for there was a ticket attached to the bottom of my bib permitting me to imbibe on one drink (beer, of course) from the Camp Randall Stadium concessions. There was also a cover band performing for the spectators (Madison County, who are pretty good). But I just wanted to hightail it to someplace warm and dry. That is, if my stiff legs would let me. Yeah, I had to sit down in the stands somewhere to catch my breath, take a swig of water (which the volunteers provided to each finisher), and let my legs rest. But I really wanted to head home and wash the well-earned stink off of me (sweat does not have a good smell on a person).
I also wanted to tell my sister the good news about my performance. She and her eldest daughter were actually in Madison on Saturday on another matter. And, truth be told, had I known that they would be in Madison — and had their to-do not conflicted with my race — I would have taken a pass on the Crazylegs Classic to meet up with them. But their schedule required them to leave Madison right after they were finished. So, no meeting up with them and no time to celebrate both of our Saturday activities. That’s okay, for when I texted Sis about my run, she still offered me a congratulatory “Good job!” So did my mom when I told her the news.
So, yeah, I am very, very proud of my running performance. Will this inspire me to run that next race? Well… let me recover from this race first, okay? *LOL* But, yeah, this performance has inspired me to keep running. In fact, the Fruit Fest, the LGBT block party put on by Plan B, includes a 5k run billed as the “Fruit Loop.” Perhaps I’ll start preparing for that race when it occurs in June.
But whether it be more time (or a faster time?) on the treadmill, more runs around my neighborhood, or whatever 5k or 8k (or 10k?) race may be in the area, I think the running bug has got a hold of me. I’d dare say it’s lodged into me. And unlike a bee sting or a common cold, I don’t expect this running bug to leave me anytime soon.