Before Northfield resident but 2001 Marshall High School graduate Nichole Porath (nee Petersen) took her first strides at the Zoom! Yah! Yah! indoor marathon on the campus of St. Olaf College on Sunday, she had a specific target in mind.
Though the race in Northfield marked the first time Porath would take on 26.2 miles indoors, her target wasn't a place or a person, but rather a record. The world record to be precise. And despite the unique challenges of running 150 laps in a single race and a blister the size of a hockey puck, Porath would hit her target.
In fact, her time of 2 hours, 57 minutes, 34 seconds smashed the previous record of 3:08:53.
Although she had never previously ran a marathon indoors, Porath had some idea of the challenges that the lack of scenery would provide, but not the severity of those physical and mental obstacles.
"I guess the two that I was unprepared for were the severity of the turns; because its 150 laps so you are turning four times per lap, four times every 68-72 seconds, which is a lot, and my feet they weren't used to that," Porath said. "They actually blistered pretty badly. So I was definitely unprepared for that. The other aspect, mentally it's a completely different challenge.
"You don't have any mile markers, so you're literally just running around this track. They do switch directions every half hour, so at least you have that as kind of a marker. But you don't know how far you are at those half an hour increments. So, again, you're just kind of running hard for the sake of running hard and that presents its own challenges, mentally."
Circling a track for nearly three hours did have some advantages for Porath, who took advantage of a pair of chance meetings during the course of the race while on her way to the record.
The first meeting was with a marathoner named Matt, who had run a 2:43:00 marathon in Chicago during the Fall. Matt and Porath ran the opening portions of the race together, trading off the lead position and setting the pace for one another.
"We ran the first, almost, two hours together, probably until (1 hour, 45 minutes) is my guess when he lost contact," Porath said. "So that was wonderful, we just kind of traded off the lead. At least then you can zone out for a bit and just follow someone."
The second meeting was one utterly unique to the indoor marathon.
As opposed to a road course where a herd of runners cruises through a planned route of a specific city, the indoor marathon features laps around a track. Rather than merely being left in the wake of the swifter competitors, those who have a slower pace will then naturally be lapped. Meanwhile the distance of the marathon allows for a high volume of lapping. Eventually the faces become familiar.
"The coolest part, because you are running by the slower runners so often, you really get to know them," Porath said. "They all knew I was going for the record, so there was an enormous amount of cheering from them every time I'd pass them. There was one guy in particular, with eight laps to go, he sped up and called back, 'Hey, mind if I see what your pace feels like for half a lap?' Which, again, would never happen in a regular race because you'd never see those people that are running slower than you."
Porath agreed to take on another running partner in the final stages of the race. But as their half-lap experiment was coming to an end, Porath asked if this fellow runner could do her a small favor.
"I said, 'Hey do you think you could bring me through two laps?,'" Porath said. "At that point it was eight laps to go, you're a mile and a half, maybe, away from the finish. Just to be able to follow someone and have them lead you at a pace was just weight off your shoulders where you can zone out and just run without having to think."
The man considered the proposal for a moment and agreed to set the pace for two laps.
"He did, he brought me through two laps and then you just have six to go, which is just over a mile," Porath said. "And at that point, when you just have a mile to go, its like I can do this. So that was just super cool of him to hop in.
"He thanked me afterwards, because it was just a joy for him to test out my pace and say that he ran with the woman that set the world record. I was like, why are you thanking me? Do you know how nice that was for me to have someone there?"
With the help of friends and family, Porath added another milestone to what has been an incredible 12 months of running. Along with placing 69th at the U.S. Olympic Trials while setting a personal record for outdoor marathons, Porath also became the first woman to break the 3-hour mark for an indoor marathon.
The world record, however, is only the tip of the iceberg for 2013.
"2013, I have two big goals," Porath said. "My biggest one will be this fall when qualifying for the 2016 (U.S. Olympic) Trials opens. It will likely be a fall race, either Chicago or the Twin Cities. The standard is a lot tougher this time, you have to run a sub-2:43:00; which I know is doable for me, but I'll have to be all in like I was for the 2012 Trials. That's really the big focus.
"And this May I'll run Fargo, and I'd really like to chase down the course record there and potentially go for the overall win. It will be kind of a fun event because a lot of my family members are running their first marathon, so it will be fun to do it with them."