Catchy title eh? It should more appropriately be called, “A Tale of Two Cities” but I think that was already claimed by Dickens & it was set in London & Paris before the French Revolution. I could have called it, “Three Strikes You’re Out,” (appropriate since it’s baseball season), or I could just lay it all out there in Stephanie style and tell you how I see it.
This is of course, my experience with running Grandma’s Marathon 2016, which just so happened to be it’s 40th anniversary. Anniversaries are lovely things, but that is fodder for another blog. Note the featured image. It was 64 degrees and overcast the day I arrived in Duluth, Minnesota. I was thankful that I had seen fit to bring my long compression pants as rain was in the forecast for race day (they weren’t needed after all).
The Expo: It intrigues me to experience different cities/marathons and their expos. Having just experienced Hospital Hill in KC, for the umpteenth time, it was quite the contrast (as much as the cool temps from the upper 90s in KC)! It was held in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center or DECC. One had to go through most of the vendors to get to the packet pick up area. That was fine, as I got to sample some wonderful coffee-“Arco” brand that I made sure to purchase at a local grocery store and bring home. The “problem” as I saw it was that it was way too congested. I thought Twin Cities was asses & elbows, but this was much worse! I like to shop at expos and tend to spend too much money, but I couldn’t seem to think of a thing that I needed at this one! I picked up my bib/packet without much fanfare, got my freebies, and left.
On to locate the Motel. Duluth is beautiful by the way, and if you have a chance to visit, I would highly recommend it! I should mention at this juncture, that the whole premise of running this marathon was camaraderie with some of my fellow running group rock stars. I would have liked to have gotten a New York qualifying time, but I wasn’t training for it in particular. I was mostly “along for the ride.” Having said that, the “group” which arrived in various fashion-planes, trains, & cars (ok, maybe not trains), were planning on having dinner together at a pizzeria just across the state line in Wisconsin.
Nutrition & Fueling: I have learned through the years, that I cannot eat past 4pm before race day & expect good outcomes. Since the group was meeting at 5:30pm, that meant that eating would most likely commence a little after 6pm & not end before 6:30pm or 7pm. Not a good plan for me. I was in bed by 8pm.
Race Day: 0300 alarm, out the door by 0530 and just in time for shuttle bus to the start at Two Harbors by 0545. It was 33 miles to the start from the motel. The course ran along Lake Superior, ending in Duluth. My group had boasted that this was a “flat” course, with one hill toward the end. I beg to differ. To me, it was like 24 miles of Rockhill Road in Kansas City. There were a few downhills, but not many. I was just pleased as a peacock that it was not raining and that the temp was 70ish to start. Still a far cry from the 90’s in KC.
My people showed up group by group, depending on where they stayed. It was a great sight to see the orange finally arrive! A quick photo and we all headed to our respective corrals (if you could call it that). Supposedly, 9600 people were registered to run the full marathon. I had no plan, other than to hover from the 3:45 to the 3:55 pacers.
I should have hit the porta-potty the final time before the start, but I didn’t, lying to myself that the urge would pass. It didn’t. Thankfully, there were the familiar blue vertical rectangles along the route before even hitting a mile. I had to stop, knowing I would be thinking about it the entire time and not doing my best.
That taken care of, I tried to make up time by sprinting-never a good idea at the start of a race, especially on what appeared to be mostly uphill! I caught a glimpse of one of the running group girls, caught up to her & we chatted for a bit. There was a random runner (female) with some odd coin type skirt thingy over her shorts that kept “jingling.” I can’t tell you how much I wanted to rip that thing off of her! How freaking annoying! By mile 4-5, I took in my first GU and my first Saltstick cap by mile 6. I was feeling actually pretty good and on my normal pace.
It was great to have volunteers handing out cups of ice, because the temps were starting to increase. By the halfway point, I was at around a 2:04 and was starting to feel a bit fatigued. Fatigue and heat I can handle, but what was about to come, I could not.
I started to feel a little niggle in my right knee around mile 16. “Crap,” I thought. “Maybe it will just go away.” I was hitting every water station and walking through them. It wasn’t cramps, but the old IT band from many months ago, laughing at me. Another girl from the group showed up at one point and we ran some together until she needed the porta-potty. She caught up to me and passed me as I needed to hit the johnny room again (so much for nutrition planning)!
Nothing smells quite as horrific as a porta-potty on a hot day in June, especially when one is having digestive problems and feeling some queasy. At that point, I decided that I just did not care about time anymore and I just wanted to finish. I could handle this-two 10ks & I had it whooped! By mile 19, the wheels fell completely off as BOTH knees were crapping out and I decided at that point that I was just going to have fun and get through the final 7.2 miles any way that I could. So I started taking pictures.
It was after all, a beautiful course. I made sure to get in some photo ops with the locals, Elvis seemed to be popular :I think it’s around mile 22 that Scenic Hwy 61 crosses over into Duluth. All I know is that I was going to capture this monumental moment. Every time I saw the “First Aid/Dropout” signs, it was oh so tempting!!! Ok-only 4.2 miles to go! My knees were screaming. I tore my sweat rags and tied them around both knees. I was hot, nauseated, and hurting. So thankful for the people along the way who graciously sprayed us!
A fellow runner, who ironically was having IT band problems as well, offered to take my pic in the sprayer. Runners are so awesome! It wasn’t long after this when a couple more from my group passed me & were aiming for a PR. I tried to stay with them but the knees said, “no way!” I then employed the 1 min run/30 sec walk routine. This worked for awhile. Finally mile 23. There was a guy with a beer bong, and boy was it tempting! Anything to numb the pain!
“Only” a 5k to go! As any marathoner knows, the last 5k is mostly mental-especially on a good running day. I just kept thinking, “Okay, I can walk 10 min miles and be done with this beast in a little over 30 minutes.” I didn’t even notice the hazard signs that had gone up.
“Full steam ahead!” I only wished. The same girl from early on caught up with me again and another whom I thought had long passed me. We had about 1.5 miles to go and I thought I could finish with them, but the last little downhill on the brick road was too much for the knees and I had to walk once again. My time between miles 25 & 26 was 15 minutes. I told myself I would at least run (hobble?) the last .2. I just wanted to be done and get that damn medal!
I did finish in 4:50:45-my third worst finishing time ever in my 9th marathon! The first was KC Marathon in 2011 at 5:17:56, followed by Route 66, 2013 in Oklahoma at 5:04:37. All three times (three strikes) were a result of IT band flares. I have no one to blame but myself.
Two tales (in pics) of beginnings and endings:
What Went Wrong & What I Learned: Every run-race or otherwise, should be a learning experience. Yes, it was hot & humid and is estimated that over 2000 people dropped out. No, the course was not what I expected. I never look at a course prior to a race. But I had just done Hospital Hill for goodness sakes! As I reviewed my Garmin, I had a pretty good race up until mile 13-16. Heat has never really been an issue for me. As a rule, I like hills. My problem was laziness. What???
Let me explain. Since I qualified for Boston for 2017 last fall at Twin Cities, I kind of let things slide. Especially after I got sick in March and had to forfeit the 100 miler I signed up for. I have taken a LOT of rest days, and not pushed myself like I know I should have. As I said before, I really did not have a goal time per say for this race, but somewhere between 4 and 4.5 hours would have been desirable. I am 10 pounds heavier than this time last year. True, a lot is muscle, but I have more around my middle than I like. For the past three years, I have been consistent with core work to strengthen my back, and hips. I have not done one lick of core work this year mostly because I find it totally BORING! I have weak hips, back, & glutes. I have work to do.
Hopefully I will have a better report after the Marine Corps Marathon this fall. On the flip side, this was one of the funnest marathons I have ever participated in because I was there with my local running family. They are the best and I am so glad that our paths have crossed. They are some of the MOST hard working, dedicated people I have ever met & who NEVER give up! They truly made this a memorable weekend.
“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.”
Hope to see you out on the roads or trails!
Next up: Stars & Stripes 5k on the 4th of July and taking on Psycho Summer 10 miler 7/23!