The best laid plans of mice and marathoners…
Often go awry
There’s your one sentence summary of my race at Grandma’s and perhaps a reminder to all of us that not matter how much you prepare there will always be factors outside your control, and you have to learn to accept it.
Deep eh? Well you have a lot of time to think when you are running 26.2 miles. Although some of those thoughts are not suitable to reprint here . If you want a race report that tells you what to expect if you run Grandma’s check out my more official race report here. This post is a more personal tale of my 2016 race at Grandma’s to share with friends, family and fellow runners, and also a chance to me to look back at the race.
Today is Monday. Two days ago I ran Grandma’s marathon in Duluth Minnesota. A cool little town on the shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. That’s a picture of me admiring the lake on Friday, the day before the race. My goal was to finish a solid sub 3:50. That would mean a personal best, and it would also give me 5 minutes under my Boston qualifying time. Since the marathon was in June I had completed a long training plan, and I was running well. I had set a PR on a 5km, and a 10 mile race. I was running well on the track. I completed three 20 mile runs during my training. Physically and mentally I was ready.
The race I didn’t run
My alternate race was Ottawa race weekend, which turned out to be a rough weekend for a marathon. There were heat advisories in effect, not a good weekend to try and PR, race officials were asking runners to slow down and take care of themselves during the race. I ran the half marathon that weekend, and was thinking to myself how frustrated you would be if the Ottawa marathon was your goal race. (If I correctly recall my high school English, in literary terms that last sentence would be called foreshadowing)
Getting to Duluth
I landed at MSP (Sorry, I travel a lot so I refer to airports by their codes, MSP is Minneapolis) on time and met Karin (who would be running the half) by the gate. Christopher (Karin’s husband who would be running the full) was late so we passed the time until he landed, meeting a few other racers along the way, then picked up our rental and made our way to Duluth about two and a half hour drive. Along the way we checked the weather forecast for race day, chance of thunderstorm at 7 AM starting temperature of 16 degrees 26 by peak of day. Hmmm not ideal, we could get a storm waiting for the race to start, but that could easily miss us. A little warm, hopefully that will change!
I was fortunate that Christopher and Karin went to college in Duluth and have run Grandma’s before. I couldn’t ask for better tour guides. Christopher sorted out the rental car, booked our accommodations and even sorted out our dinner reservations Friday night.
We stayed at the university of Minnesota Duluth residence. I wasn’t too sure how I felt about sleeping in a door room with no AC, and shared showers and bathrooms down the hall. but it was actually a pretty great set up! I had an entire room to myself, it was quiet, everyone around was runners. I never had a wait for the shower, and there were some unexpected perks.
First of all there was a hospitality suite at the residence, which had junk food, pop, water, bananas, apples, oranges, bagels, jam, peanut butter, a toaster, course maps, postcards, even drawings by local schools kids welcoming us to the race! I loved that!
There were also lounge areas, so Christoper, Karin and I were able to settle in with a laptop, bluetooth speaker and our junk food to psych ourselves up by watching Spirit of the Marathon. It’s possible our allergies may have kicked in from time to time. That movie sums up all the emotions, all the ups and downs of running marathons, and I love watching it the week before a race. (at the Chicago marathon do they have a small orchestra playing that theme music at the start?)
The day before the race
We went to the race expo early hoping to beat the crowds. Loved the truck with the names of all the runners printed on the side!
Picked up our bibs and wandered around the expo picking up samples of chocolate milk, and looking for any must have t-shirts with clever running jokes. I almost picked up the “I run for wine” t-shirt. But finally settled on a fridge magnet, hat, pin, and a couple of laptop stickers. My laptop sticker says 26.2 Grandma’s marathon and I picked up one for Trevor that says 0.0 Grandma’s marathon Trevor still doesn’t understand this strange urge my family has to race , but luckily he is still supportive of this shared insanity and is a tireless supported and spectator!
Christopher really enjoys meeting the celebrity runners in the race expo. We were practically stalking Shalayne Flanagan in Boston, and at Grandma’s it was Dick Beardsley who would likely be issuing the restraining order. He was speaking at 4 PM, so we figured we could come back then to talk to him after his presentation. As we were walking around the expo they announced “Dick Beardsley is in the building at the North End of the expo”. Of course expo race PA systems are terrible so that was all we caught and we spent the next 20 minutes hunting through the expo, outside the expo, asking the info desk trying to figure out where he was. Just as we gave up they made another announcement. This time we listened carefully and caught the booth name “Essentia Health”. We went to what we thought was their booth, but no sign of Dick. But when we asked they pointed us down another hallway and there he was! We had walked past him 3 or 4 times and hadn't even noticed. It was so low key that hardly anyone had seen him! That worked out great because there were only two runners in front of us waiting to talk to him. He took his time and chatted with each runner and also dashed out to hug and chat some familiar faces walking by. When we finally reached him we had a good 3-5 minute chat, he signed our bibs and Christopher got a picture. All I can say after meeting him is Wow, what a great ambassador he is for the sport! He held the course record at Grandmas for 33 years! 2:09:37!
Christopher had a PR on this course 3 years ago and warned me that the finish was a little misleading. 25 miles of the course is straight, but the last 1.2 miles winds through side streets and just as you see and hear the finish they turn you away down some road and loop you around a building then finally back to the finish. So we walked that last mile so I would know what to expect race day. We did find the 26 mile marker which made a great photo op! It was a gorgeous day, nice breeze, high of about 24 degrees or so, not too humid. Would have been a great race day! (there’s that foreshadowing again…)
Food was cheap and easy to find. French toast at Perkins for breakfast Friday. Sandwiches for lunch at Erbert and Gerbert (handy to have friends who know the town). An early supper at Va Bene, a wonderful little Italian place overlooking the water that was completely ready for the rush of runners looking to carbo load.
By 8 PM we were well fed, rested and back at the dorm. I checked the weather forecast one last time: chance of thunderstorms at 5 AM and 11 AM (hey that’s better we wont’ get soaked waiting at the start), starting temperature of 16 degrees and about 24 degrees by noon. Not cool, but manageable. I laid out all my race gear, set my alarm for 4:45 AM and was soon fast asleep.
My alarm woke me up, and I stumbled out of bed, slowly started to get into race mode. Body glide, compression sleeves, take a bite of my banana, have a sip of water, turn on my GPS to get a signal and so on.
Karin left earlier to catch the shuttle for the half marathon start which is at 6:15 AM. The marathon doesn’t start until 7:45. Yeah I know the half starts before the full, weird eh? That’s because the half marathon runners start half way down the marathon course so they want the half marathon runners off the course before the elite marathoners come through.
Christopher and I met at 5:30 and made our way to catch the shuttle. We were on the first bus, and soon we were trundling along, trying to distract ourselves so we wouldn’t think about how every mile covered by that bus we would soon be doing on foot!
A statue of Paul Bunyan marks the turnoff for the start. They dropped us off and we trundled down the road to the start area and found another photo op. Yup those are my the same stylish pre-race PJs I wore in Philly! I keep thinking they work because I can throw them out, but I keep throwing them in with the bag check, so there they are again! You can also just make out my fine work writing my name on my tank top with electrical tape. Apologies to my K2J folks, that tank top is my best hot weather tank top and I chose function over K2J fashion for this race.
It was neat being amount the first buses and seeing such an empty start area. Is this what it is like for people in the first wave at Boston?
We laid out our garbage bags on the grass and settled in. We put on our sunscreen, and generally took it easy. It wasn’t long before there were 15-30 minute waits for all those port-a-potties as you can see in the background. (See I did bring K2J gear to the race! Had to make sure I had at least one good K2J Photo op!)
We did the mandatory last trip to the port-a-potty line and made our way to the stop. The temperature warning flag was green (low risk). We were good to go!
I had a mild panic when I got to the bag check because there was only one bin left for my bib number range and it was already overflowing. No sooner did I stuff my bag in they started to roll it away and bags were falling out.
But no time to worry about that, time to find the 3:45 start point. No corrals here, just signs to indicate suggested starting points in the corral. For some reason all the pace bunnies were way down by the front of the main start (they have a sub 2;25 start and then the everyone else start). In the end I had to fight my way down to the 3:45 bunny. I found at later that Christopher was at the 4:00 mark confused looking for his pacer along with many other runners, they didn’t know their pacer was at the front with mine. This was my only real complaint with the race, whether that decision was made by the CliffBar pace team or the race we may never know but if you were trying to PR and planned to follow a pacer that could have thrown off your entire race…it also caused a lot of clogging near the start.
The announcer started gave us the 5 minute warning. “It’s a gorgeous 72 degrees out there right now, great day for a run”. I don’t speak Farenheit so I took his word for it (turns out that is apparently 22 in Canadian)
The race started, we slowly moved towards the start line. My GPS of course decided to go into power save mode, so I had to restart finding my location again,but it was ready before I crossed the start. Let the race begin! I had my pace wrist band, my pace bunny, my belt with gels and two water bottles I was ready!
1 km 5:20 pace – perfect exactly on track for 3:45
2 km 5:07 pace – well not surprising very crowded tough to keep up with the pace bunny
3 km 5:11, 4 km 5:06 – glad I brought water with me, first water stop isn’t until 3 miles
5 km 5:14 and the first water stop, the flag is now yellow (moderate heat risk) . ottawa race weekend I ran a half marathon with red flags, I can handle this. I dump water on my head.
6 km 5:20, 7 km 5:12, 8 km 5:14 – the pace bunny is going a little faster than I would like, but I’m okay, starting to get to know the other runners in the 3;45 pace group, still pretty crowded.
9 km 5:22, 10 km 5:14 – the first mat! I am about 90 seconds ahead of my goal time here, anyone tracking me online is thinking ‘ okay great Susan didn’t go out too fast in the first part of the race, sticking to her plan’
11 km 5:15, 12 km 5:26, 13 km 5:16 – wow there are way more hills on this course than I expected, this is not flat. Okay they aren’t really steep hills, but there do seem to be a lot of them
14 km 5:28 15 km 5:27 – you know given this race is along the water there isn’t much breeze, these darn trees are blocking the breeze from the water! Oh wait there’s an open bit, yeah that breeze can we have more of that?
16 km 5:29 17 km 5:43 – Why am I doing this. Marathons are stupid. I should just run half marathons. Yeah I am never running another marathon I mean seriously this sucks
18 km 5:34 – You know what Mr Pace bunny, you can go ahead, I’m okay back here.
19 km 5:40 – wait a second that’s a red flag (high risk) at the water station, maybe that’s why this seems so hard. Another runner comments that dumping water over her head has caused water to drip down her legs into her shoes. Doh! Why did she have to say that, I hadn’t noticed my socks and shoes are completely soaked.
20 km 5:34, 21 km 5:46 – hey red balloons that means walk the water stops, dump ice in the sports bra, and take a sponge. These water stations are awesome! they have ice and sponges at every single stop. Oh look a timing mat, only a couple of minutes off my goal pace… bwahaha anyone tracking me online will still think I might have a personal best little do they know…
22 km 6:07, 23 km 5:46 – just get to the next yellow balloon (mile marker) then walk, just get to the next balloon then you can walk. I wonder if the 4:00 bunny will pass me and if so will Christopher be with him, if so good for Christopher.
24 km 6:11, 25 km 6:01 – okay big curve, cut the corner, why is no-one else cutting this corner it will save a good 100+ meters… oh wait they are all staying on the side of the road with shade. Didn’t think of that
26 km 5:34 – downhill yay! Oh look I can see the lift bridge at the finish line in the distance. Christopher warned me about that. Still got 16 km to go, that sucks.
27 km 5:57, 28 km 5:49, 29 km 6:43 – uhhh wait a second that was a black flag at the water station (extreme risk) are they going to close the course with me still out here?
30 km 6:35, 31 km 6:01 – then again if they close the course I could stop. Look there goes the 4:00 pace bunny, bye bye pace bunny.
32 km 6:18, 33 km 6:18 – what was that loud bang!?! Oh that is the blue balloon mile markers for the half marathon exploding in the heat. Oh look a timing mat, anyone tracking me online is going to look at this mat and say ‘whoa something went wrong on that stretch’
34 km 6:50, 35 km 6:03 – hey look, someone else from the 3:45 pace group – Hello Michelle shall we run walk this together? A volunteer hands me water and says “Go Susan you look great” I smile, pat her on the arm and say “ You lie so well”
36 km 8:23 – foot about to cramp, calf about to cramp, F**% thank you Michelle for walking with me, okay we can run again, no wait now Michelle has a cramp. Hey look orange slices and strawberries.
37 km 6:40, 38 km 7:24 – run walk run walk run walk, well slow jog walk really, hey look there is the restaurant we ate at last night. Look another pace band on the side of the road someone ripped off in disgust, tried to rip mine off but too much effort.
39 km 5:44 – wow awesome crowds on this stretch yelling “Go Susan” “Go Susan’s friend” thank you! So glad I put the tape on my shirt
40 km 6:34 – one last water station! Great crowds lots of cheering.
41 km 6:34 – Michelle says she is slowing me down (the idea that anyone could slow me down at this point is highly entertaining) and sends me on my way. I wonder if can get through the last mile without stopping… Hey look there is the one mile photo op, would it be rude to flip him the bird, cuz that’s pretty much all I want to do right now. Wouldn’t that be a great race photo?
42 km – S*(%#@ there is a hill here, that’s just cruel, use the arms, use the arms use the arms. There’s the 26 mile spot where we took our picture .2 miles to go, come on, use the arms, use the crowd, just keep moving, there’s the finish, oh f$@*& my calf is about to cramp up I am 100 meters from the finish line don’t let me collapse with a calf cramp now! Don’t let me be that runner who collapses and crawls across the finish line or has other runners helping them limp across
42.2 5:49 for that last km by the way – the finish line, once again I am sorely tempted to use my middle finger for my finish photo. The words going through my head in this photo are not suitable for younger viewers
It’s over! Thank god it’s over. That sucked. I don’t care what my time was, it’s over! Thank you I will take that medal and my finisher shirt. Wow this medal weighs a ton. All around me finishers are looking at each other and simply saying, glad that’s over! I mention I need salt and I need it now, he hands me a leftover salt tablet. Thank you sir you are my hero! Michelle appears behind me we hug briefly, it’s over. I stumble to the gear check, they find my bag, I stumble to the chocolate milk station I find some chips, I find some shade.
Karin finds me, I ask about Christopher, he’s still out there. I lie immobile trying to stretch what I can, drink what I can, eat what I can. I text Karin, Christopher has crossed the 25 mile marker. I stumble towards the finisher shirt pick up. I see Christopher, one shared look says it all ‘who cares about the time today, we finished!’ . We hug in mutual exhaustion and I take him to Karin. The three of us take a group finisher photo with our medals. Karin takes care of Christopher getting him chocolate milk, then water as he just stands there. We both just had our worst ever marathon finishing times, and neither of us cares at all. Today was all about finishing without ending up in the med tent!
We head to the change tents (great concept! ladies and mens change tents at the finish line so you can get out of your soggy nasty race gear!). I discover I still have a sponge stuck in the back of my running bra. Christopher walks out of the tent clutching a blue piece of paper he was given at the finish, his drink ticket. Instead of the finisher shirt he has changed into a red shirt that says “I didn’t run this far to drink fizzy yellow beer”. Clearly our next destination is pre-determined.
I don’t drink beer, but I can get a Coke with my ticket, but the coke is luke warn just put it into the cooler. I’ll take a Sprite. We collapse a bit. I sit, Christopher is afraid if he sits on the ground he will never get up again. Lunch is proposed, after considerable struggle I managed to get to my feet. As we walk along, we spot the race car with the names, hey cool the half marathon names are on the other side of the car we just never realized it! Photo op for Karin!
We find a nearby restaurant. We order food. We have a booth, look I can lie down on the bench, that feels good.
We finish lunch, we walk towards the shuttle buses, we cross the race course and OMG there are runners coming in! Have they been out there this whole time!!! Cheer, clap, cheer some more! You are amazing! Wow!! Seriously! they look pretty good for people who have been on the course for about 6 hours in this heat!
Apparently it peaked at 78 F which is *only* 26 C, but it was also 80 % humidity and there was not a cloud in the sky. So trust me when I say it was hot. There was a running group from Tampa Florida in our dormitories. They were complaining about the heat as much as we were.
So no personal best, no Boston Qualifying time, all that training and preparation, but Zeus (or whichever god controls the weather) was not feeling kindly towards the runners today. 9500 runners registered in the marathon. 7500 finished. We don’t know how many started.
It may be my worst marathon finishing time to date (4:07:42 if you are curious) but I will wear my Grandma’s marathon jacket with pride! Done and done I never want to run another marathon again!
But… my time from the Philly marathon in November is a theoretical BQ . With the Ottawa and Grandma’s races being so hot maybe less people will have qualified and my time may get me in to Boston 2017, a chance to earn another Boston jacket, and my running group, K2J, was discussing trying Boston Big Sur next year, so just maybe… Damn it! here we go again… so when does the next K2J clinic start?
Last but certainly not least a huge thank you and big hugs to Christopher and Karin, who suggested this race in the first place! Hey Christopher it took what 5 years? but we finally ran a marathon together! Let’s not wait 5 years for the next one.