Michelle Zerzanek refers to herself as “The Slow Champ” – a nickname that stuck after she won a local race with the slowest winning time in the history of the race.
But make no mistake – Zerzanek is anything but slow. At her marathon debut last fall, she ran 3:18:35 – good enough to win an age group award and qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Here, she shares her favorite workout, running goals and what it was like to run this year’s Boston Marathon.
Years running: 20
Favorite distance to race: Marathon – I enjoy both the physical and mental challenge of it. I also really love the training.
Significant past wins: The Lighthouse Run 2012 (Racine, WI) – really significant to me, because it is my hometown race!
Favorite song to get pumped up before a race: “Swagger Like Us” from T.I.
Favorite post-race treat: I’m simple. A banana and chocolate milk – but that needs to be followed up with a beer.
Can you tell us the story behind your nickname The Slow Champ?
Well – “Slow Champ” happened after I won the Lighthouse Run in Racine – my hometown race. I was really excited about winning (like proudest moment ever kind of excitement) until the newspaper ran an article about the race that evening – saying my time was “unimpressive” and in fact, it was the slowest winning time in the history of the race. At first I was mortified. I cried. I was angry. But – it was true – so I decided to own it and honestly, it’s kind of funny. Even if it was the SLOWEST winning time in the history of the race, I STILL WON! Hence: The Slow Champ.
How did you get started with running?
I was just always “fast.” I could beat the boys and I took pride in that (still do.) My dad would run occasionally, and so I decided to try taking it to the streets. I never stopped. I spent most of my life as a sprinter (400 is my race!) but my distances have been increasing with my age.
What does a typical training day look like for you?
If I have my way, I honestly prefer to run in the middle of the day – time to get some proper fuel, to get acclimated to the day and get outside during the best light. My workouts vary – but they’re typically intense. I like two-a-days more than I should.
What’s your favorite workout?
I like to do unstructured alternating block intervals – where I’ll literally run alternating city blocks at various intensities. I find it really kicks my butt, but doesn’t feel as regimented or tedious as the track. I also like cross-training quite a bit (Insanity, yoga, circuit training.)
Where are your favorite places to run in Milwaukee?
I love running the Eastside and the Lakefront. It’s beautiful and there are usually plenty of other runners out, too. Sometimes you gotta race strangers along the lake!
What are your favorite Milwaukee races ?
I will always love Lakefront Marathon, because it was my first marathon. The course is flat and scenic. It is a nice size as well – a few thousand runners versus the big-box marathons that get all the notoriety. I also like that you transition from rural Wisconsin to finishing in the city!
Can you tell us a bit about your Boston experience?
I loved my time there – quite possibly the best “trip” of my adult life, with the exception of the obvious. The BAA puts on a tremendous event – clearly world class with every detail taken care of. The race itself was fairly challenging (the notorious hills are not to be taken lightly) but I loved it. It was like a 26.2 mile long block party – full of the best spectators, music, parties and an absolutely gorgeous tour of the Boston area. The sense of community and support was incredible – such a wholeheartedly positive and inspirational event.
I was lucky enough to finish the race (3:21:26.) At the time the bombs went off, I was two blocks away in a coffee shop having hot chocolate and a sandwich. I had no idea anything had occurred until I started walking back to my hotel – when I noticed that there were too many people in the streets and many of them were crying. A man walking next to me showed me his phone with the bloody photos from the finish line. There was a lot of confusion, but I wouldn’t say chaos. Boston responded immediately by shutting the city down. It was very eerie to look out of my hotel window overlooking Quincy Market/Fanueil Hall (a tourist trap) and see no one but armed military, police and fire patrolling all night long. As alarming as all of the events were, Boston rallied – the community all came together to protect their beautiful city and the amazing aspects of the human spirit came through.
Terrible things happened that day in Boston, but it doesn’t define the city, the marathon or anyone that was there. Arguably, Boston and the Boston Marathon will be better because of such cowardly acts. Many people have said to me, “I bet you’ll never do THAT again.” Honestly, I can’t wait to go back. Everyone is looking forward to 2014 because that race will represent resilience, and it will also bring some amount of closure to everyone. I think it will be a beautiful event filled with a lot of emotion but an equal amount of celebration. Marathon runners and people from Boston are both known for being pretty tough; 2014 will be our year to show that we’ve triumphed in the face of tragedy. Boston strong, indeed!
What are your running goals for the upcoming year?
I’m looking to PR in the marathon – hopefully by a lot. I’ve put in a ton of work over the past year to get stronger and faster.
In general, what makes Milwaukee a great place for runners?
There is a wonderful sense of community here – welcoming, easy-going people that don’t mind hard work or having fun. It’s also a beautiful city on Lake Michigan. We have the scenery of any major coastal city without all of the hassle of big-city living.
That’s it for now – we’ll be back next week with more Milwaukee run stories!
Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!