Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Race/Weekend Report - 2012 Icebreaker Indoor Marathon & Half Marathon

This past weekend was the 4th annual Icebreaker Indoor Marathon and Half Marathon at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, WI. Yes, a January Marathon in Milwaukee, but as the name indicates, an INDOOR marathon.

The Pettit National Ice Center is the place originally where Olympic Speedskaters train on the 400 meter Ice Oval (they also now train in Kearns, Utah as well). On the outside of the Ice Oval is a 2 lane running track. My friend, Chris Ponteri, decided this would be a great place to put on a Marathon and why not have it when it is traditionally the coldest and snowiest in Milwaukee, so the 3rd weekend in January was adopted. The running track is 443 meter long thus making a full marathon 95.4 laps and a half marathon 47.7 laps. This will be the flattest marathon you will ever find and quite possibly the best weather as well, a controlled 45 to 50 dry degrees, almost perfect for running and no wind. The surface is a bit hard, a thin piece of hard rubber on cement but that may be changing sometime soon.

Over the past 4 races, the Icebreaker has added races. The first year was just the full marathon. Year 2 added 2 half marathon races (only 130 can fit on the track at one time comfortably) and a marathon relay on Saturday. Year 3 added a 5K on Friday night and this year the 5K was expanded. This is a VERY popular event with runners from over 20 states and a few international runners over the years.

The weekend began on Thursday evening with packet stuffing. About 15 or so of us gathered to full over 1200 bags with sponsor’s information and get the track and packet pickup area ready.

Melissa running the 5K on Friday (Photo courtesy of

Friday evening brought us snow and slippery roads, just what an indoor marathon needs. This meant that packet pickup for the Half Marathon and Marathon was slowed as runners decided to come day of race (a great feature this race offers). Packet Pickup is in a room overlooking the track and Ice Oval which is great for watching the race if you want to stay warm. My 10 year old daughter was in the 5K this year and 57 of the 75 runners were able to show up for the race. I played the part of coach again and encouraged her and timed her laps to see if she was on pace or not. She did really well and ran a time of 27:16, only 1 second slower than she ran at Disney 2 weeks earlier but without my help running next to her. She ended up in 1st place in the 19 and under age group beating out another 9 year old and an 18 year old. She was 22nd overall and the 5th female to finish. She was happy with her time and had fun beating all the other “older” runners in the race. Her age group award will be a special Icebreaker Pin she can wear anywhere.

Melissa in her last 100 meters of the 5K (Photo courtesy of

Saturday morning saw me waking up at 4:30 AM so I could be to Pettit by 5:15 to help make sure everything was ready. By 6:15, my friends Jamie (Running Diva Mom) and Amy (Running -Reading- is Cheaper than Therapy) showed up as they were running the first half marathon race scheduled to begin at 7:00AM. It is always a festive atmosphere in the Hall of Fame room above the track before the race and everyone is getting ready for the race and picking up their packets. The first race is the “Fast” heat of the 2 half marathons with runners who should be able to break 2 hours. Right before the race, one of my duties is to make sure the runners have their timing chips attached to their ankles and Velcro’ed on. In past years, a runner or 2 did not heed the warnings and did not have laps counted as they crossed over the timing mats every lap. I also reminded runners to run in the outside lane and pass on the inside lane. Some of the runners in the race are VERY fast and there not always a lot of room so this is the rule and it works really well. Runners are supposed to call out “Track” when coming up on slower runners if they are in lane 1 but this doesn’t happen too often if everyone follows the rules. By running in lane 2, you do add distance to your race, approximately 200 meters for a half marathon and about a ¼ mile for a full but as with all marathons out there, it is almost certain you will run longer since almost everyone does not run the tangents. Not a big deal here.

Jamie and Amy before the Half Marathon

Race 1 started well and runners soon spread out enough for comfortable running after only a few laps. My friends Jamie and Amy started together for a few laps but then split to run their own races. I was able to cheer them both on and take a few pictures and videos as well.

Another friend of mine, Paul, was volunteering at the water table. I do have to say that this may be the best and most unique water table is all marathons. Runners are required to use water bottles with lids to prevent spilling since everyone needs to run past the same place over and over. Runners put their number on their bottle(s) and then ask for the bottle when they want them. The next lap, the volunteers will have their bottle ready for them and they can run with it and drop it off the next lap. Water and Powerade were supplies as well as Gu. Each runner has a specific volunteer they always went to which made it a more personal touch and a runners very own cheering section.

Amy somewhere in the middle oh the Half Marathon (photo courtesy of

Icebreaker has an announcer who reads off sponsor information during the race as well as lap counts if a runner needs to know where they are. Then with about 5 laps to go, the announcer will mention your name and the number of laps you have left as well as saying when they begin their final lap. This is all done with monitors and chip timing. And when a runner is done, they are announced as an Icebreaker Finisher. Pretty cool if you ask me. The official announcer sometimes needed a break so I was able to take over which was quite fun. During the marathon relay, I announced toward the end and tried to jazz it up some and pump up some of the runners. I think it went over well???

Jamie during her Half Marathon (photo courtesy of

Amy and Jamie ran very well. Amy finished in 1:48 (75 out of 223) and Jamie followed closely in 1:54 (103 out of 223). They did great. I was able to talk to them for a bit before the second race started and they seemed very happy with their times. I am hoping to get them to sign up for the full marathon next year! The winning time in the half marathon was 1:13 so pretty fast and the first place female was 1:26 (9th overall). The conditions allow for fast times at Pettit. The second half marathon is usually for the noncompetitive runners but a few fast runners sneak in and the winning time of race 2 was 1:35. You can read Amy Race Report [Here] and Jamie's Race Report [Here].

Quite possibly the most exciting race of the entire event is the Marathon Relay on Saturday afternoon. Teams of 2 to 4 runners complete the 95.4 laps but there is very interesting strategy involved. Rules allow teams to exchange as many times as they wish and wherever on the track they wish to do so. 99 teams were competing so it was very crowded especially considering this race had the biggest difference in paces. The winning team ran 2:12:44 for a pace of 5:04. HOLY CRAP is that fast! The second place team wasn’t much slower finishing in a time of 2:15:48. Both of these teams had runners from the college I ran for many years ago so I was able to talk to them and see their strategies. I wonder how fast they could have run if there wasn’t 99 teams on the track getting in the way? We are exploring this to see if we want to make a change next year. It sure looked like all the teams were having a blast cheering on not only their runners but also runners from other teams. People are all around the track so no lack of fans and cheering.

The Relay was the final event of the day and I was able to go home after 13 hours but I was able to sit for a lot of it so that helps. I was able to get some sleep on Saturday night and was back at the Pettit Center at about 6:45AM.

If you recall from my report on my Disney Marathon experience, you know that I had my IT band get very sore and had to walk almost 12 miles. I went to the doctor to confirm that it was in fact my IT band and see if I could run the Icebreaker Marathon. I did not want to miss it because I have run all the previous 3. I decided by Saturday evening that I would give it a try and hope for the best. I was ready for a lot of walking and hoped to get past half way before I needed to walk. A DNF was not an option unless the pain was too intense and too early.

One thing cool about running all of the Icebreaker Marathons and that the size rather small is that you get to know a lot of the runners that run every year. Robyn is one runner that has run every Icebreaker and I have gotten to know a little 1 year at a time. I have seen her at one other marathon besides Icebreaker but you get to recognize people and get to know them. Runners are such cool people that it is very easy to just talk and have fun. There are about 10 or so of us that have run every Icebreaker Marathon.

One other thing that the Icebreaker Marathon offers is the Gold Medal Challenge. I did this 2 years ago. The Gold Medal Challenge is just like the Goofy Challenge at Disney World where you run the Half Marathon on Saturday and follow that us with the Full Marathon on Sunday. Instead of just a Bronze Medal for running the Half Marathon and a Silver Medal for running the Full, you also get a Gold Medal. 40 runners get a chance to do this at Icebreaker and then there are results for just the Gold Medal being your combined time. The winner of the Gold Medal Challenge gets their name on a banner displayed in the rafters at Pettit along with all the Speedskating Olympians. Pretty Cool.

I started almost dead last in the Full Marathon (photo courtesy of

Just as the countdown for the beginning of the marathon began, I found myself at the very back of the pack and started almost dead last. Only 3 other runners who were still getting ready on the other side of the track started after me. My goal was to maintain about a 4 hour marathon until the pain began and then adjust. I also changed strategy from last time and would take my usual 30 second breaks every 7 laps (just under 2 miles) instead of 10 laps like that last 3 years. As much as the water table is a ton of fun, I only use them to refill my water bottle if it empties; I bring a small TV tray like table and put all my stuff (Salt, Water, Gu, Vaseline, etc) for easy reach just off the track. My friend Paul was helping out at the water table so I was able to get cheers on most of my laps.

Mike keeps moving in the Full Marathon (photo courtesy of

Also running the full marathon was my friend Mike, his first Icebreaker Marathon. Mike is faster than I am so I expected to see him every 6 or 7 laps as he passed me and sure enough he did. After 5 laps, I was feeling pretty good, my knee wasn’t an issue yet and my pace was close to 9:00 per mile. This stayed until about 18 laps in when knee started hurting and I was worried. I quickly took 4 Tylenol and kept going hoping it would work. It got a little worse but after half way, it started feeling a little better and I was able to keep running the entire race (except for planned breaks that is). I went through the half in about 2:01:50ish and my legs were tired so I figured Sub 4 was out of the question. My lap pace fell to about 10 to 20 seconds slower than needed but watching the speedskaters on the ice and watching the race leaders helped distract me.

Mike passing me in the Full Marathon down the back stretch (photo courtesy of

The winner of the race, Mac McCulley, finished 32 laps ahead of me in a time of 2:39:27 but what was really cool about him and the other early finishers is that they stayed and cheered on the other runners after they were finished. What other marathon can you have the winner cheer you on long before you are done? So Cool. The winner of the women’s race was Mary Flaws, the 2 time defending Gold Medal Challenge winner in a time of 3:13:14 in 9th place overall and once again; she was the Gold Medal winner. Mac McCulley also won the Half Marathon the day before so he was the Gold Medal Men’s winner.

Another really cool feature of the Icebreaker Marathon is that spectators can sit in one place and see you 95 times if they so choose. It is a bit chilly for spectators but with a few layers, it is nice. There are plenty of bleacher seats for everyone and they can even go upstairs to the Hall of Fame Room and watch behind glass in heated comfort. Laps counts are displayed on a screen next to the track for spectators as well. Runners can see it to but it is not very handy as only 10 runners are listed at any time. Some fans bring signs. One even brought a bunch of printed notes and changed them every lap or so. S Some would say “Come this way often?” or “Left Turn Ahead”. They were quite clever. Another fan had a dry erase board and had it say “Free High 5’s” for a while and then his kids would give high 5’s. It was fun.

Another friend of mine that I was able to run with was Brandi who was on the Jennipede team with me. We just found out today that we have been certified Guinness Marathon World Record holders.

Somewhere around mile 21 or 22, I started feeling less tired and was able to pick the pace back up to 9:00 miles. My new goal was to try to beat my time from last year’s Icebreaker (4:08:32). I knew I had to keep it up to do it but I was feeling good. The music was upbeat and the track was clearing as more runners were finishing. Mike finished 9 ½ laps ahead of me in a time 3:42:28 good for 30th place. Not a good time for Mike but only his second time running at Pettit. I kept cranking it out and soon found myself as the fastest runner on the track with 5 or so laps to go. It was fun to be passing everyone and not being passed at all. Knowing that this would be my last run for a month or 2 (taking time off to rest the IT Band), I pounded the last 2 laps and finished in a time of 4:07:04. I was really happy with this time considering I had only run 1 time in the last 2 weeks and that I was really expecting to have to walk a ton due to my IT Band. I ended up in 52nd place overall out of 114 runner. Even though I ran a minute and a half faster this year, I was 2 places lower but still in the top half.

After the race, there was a separate room for runners to enjoy tons of good food and treats (cookies, doughnuts, bagels, bananas, crackers, etc). There was all the chocolate milk you could ever want to help recover. Mary Flaw, winner of the Marathon/Gold Medal Challenge, had also made 60 dozen of the best cookies for all the runners too. She happens to be married to Bill Flaws and they jointly run the website Bill was the photographer of the race as well. You can see a lot of his work in the pictures I am posting. He does a great job.

So now I am going to take a break from running for a while to heal up the IT Band. It sucks but is needed. I haven’t had a break from running in something like 6 years so my body will appreciate it. Hopefully I will come back stronger and faster and most importantly, healthier. I hope to learn some stretches to help my IT so this won’t happen again.

Soon I will write another post about the Icebreaker Marathon and Half Marathon. I want to share some more pictures as well as links to others reports and some links to some videos from this year’s race.

If you want in to next year’s Icebreaker Marathon, sign up early as it fills quickly. I think registration opens on August 1st.

Also new this year, we will be starting the 1st annual Heatbreaker Half Marathon and Half Marathon Relay to be held at the Pettit on Saturday, July 28th, traditionally the hottest weekend of the year in Milwaukee. I will write more about this race soon as well. Just think of how cool it is to run in 50 degree no humidity on the hottest day of the year.

Until the next marathon…

Keep on Running!!!


Mark said...

Well done, Bill!

misszippy said...

I really cannot imagine doing an indoor marathon/1/2 like that, but you make it sound not so bad; maybe even fun!