Just to set the mood, as I write I have a nice, cool Samuel Adams pale ale and some good tunes running from my I-tunes collection. Old school Alice Cooper right now. (my mix is broad)
So, as many folks have already known, this years running of the Grandma's Marathon was greeted with better weather. For the most part. The temperatures were decent with highs during race time of mid to upper 60's. This is Duluth though. There is always a little twist to the weather. This year would be the crazy winds that stirred up sometime Thursday and wouldn't let up anytime until late Saturday night. Typical. The good news of the morning was the overcast skies. Little to no sun made running very comfortable.
I'm getting ahead of myself. The alarm sounded at 0430. Nothing new for me. That is one advantage of being an early morning runner throughout the year. I woke up, hit the bathroom, made a cup of coffee, toast, and a bowl of cereal. It took me about an hour to ready and off to the campus of UMD to catch the bus to the starting line. My goal was to hit a bus where I didn't know a sole. It worked, as I hustled up to the first bus in line and took a seat in the first row right next to a very cheerful, smiling middle aged woman. It didn't take long and we were talking of various races and experiences. I've learned to enjoy these types of experiences as in my early years of running I was way too serious and hated those "old" runners who wouldn't shut up on the way to the starting line. I now understand that chatting with others can be very settling. It puts so many things in perspective as to why we are all congregating in Duluth once a year to go push ourselves as hard as we can to get from Two Harbors to Duluth. It really is amazing. The bus trip was flawless and quick. I only wish I had gotten the name of the nice lady I was sitting next to. Oh well, I only hope she was thinking the same...maybe I pissed her off and she wished I just shut up.
After some time at the start and a little jog, saying hi to all it was time to get to the starting line and ready ourselves for the push to Duluth. At the start of any marathon I often just stare into the distance and reflect on the 'journey' that led me to the start. It truly is the best part of the race. Sure, I like racing, and I love when I can race to a PR, but my PR days are coming to an end and really it is all about the journey and how each and everyone of us got to the start. I like to reflect on the long runs, the workouts, the early morning darkness of the winter, the skunks, the mornings when I have to hit the woods in a panic and hope nobody sees me. All of this make me a marathoner and I love it!
It's now 7:15 and the race directors are moving us off to the side while the wheelers take off. After an applaud we have to line up and await for our gun to sound. At 7:30 we are off and I quickly find myself trailing a large crowd of Eastern Africans. Many. It takes me about a half mile and I can tell I am running a decent pace and I shouldn't be out too fast. A group of six or seven forms and we manage to hit some pretty good splits early in the race. I wore my Garmin 405 and set it to record mile splits automatically. My goal was not to look at my watch and run on effort but I just couldn't handle the urge to look. We buzzed the first mile in 5:42 the second in 5:48, followed by 5:48, and 5:49. The final mile I would run with this pack was 5:43 and I had to make a serious decision. I had to let the pack go and I was very torn as to my decision. I was feeling really good, but a runner should feel good that early in the race. But, with the wind and 21 more miles to run I made the decision to fall back and settle in 5:50's like the plan was called for. One major problem. That move would cause me to run solo from the 6th mile to the finish line in Canal Park. I did see, pass and get passed by a few runners but I had no runner hitting my same splits. Damn!
Once I was on my solo trip, after the 10k mark, I was cruising along and had a bottle or two of Poweraide in my belly and I was now getting the urge to pee. As I passed the 9 mile mark and heading down to the lake I took a quick glance behind me and saw no runners. A perfect opportunity. No spectators to offend and no runners. It took me near 30 seconds (yes runners are that anal that they time their pee's during a run) and I was back on the road. I was knocking off pretty consistent splits and I passed half way in 1:17:14 or so. Sweet, I thought. I can still run under 2:35 and get my goal. It was at half way I took my second gel and pushed through some lonely miles. The middle miles offer very little crowd support but it doesn't last too long. By mile 19 there are tons of people and the crowd grows as the miles in town pass. I felt like the hard miles of past marathons were behind me and all I had to do was maintain and I could reach the finish in a new PR, even with slowing some more, which I expected to do. When I passed 21 I looked for my bottle and it wasn't there. "No bottle for you at this table", said the volunteer. "Shit, there should be", I thought, but didn't say out loud as it wasn't his fault the bottle was missing. The trouble missing the bottle was I had a gel strapped to it. The good thing was I had one more spare in my shorts and I used it. No harm right? I had a feeling things were unraveling quickly before the gel regardless. Once I made it up Lemon Drop hill at mile 22 I was still optimistic I could muster out a sub 2:40 marathon. As I crested the hill I heard a male voice yell at me, "you're one ugly runner, but you are looking good!" What the hell kind of motivational chant is that? It takes all kinds I guess. My guess is he had a little liquid energy I didn't have on board.
As I pressed on to mile 23 I was enjoy the slight down grade of the course except one thing. As I turned the corner for one block to jump up from London road to Superior street my right hamstring was pulling and tweaked me into one of those quick, straight-legged, YIKES! kind of move. That was where I had to really alter my stride and keep things as easy as possible to make it to the finish line. I passed 24 at Fitgers and took my last Poweraide bottle took in the sights of a lovely downtown Duluth. The streets were lined with people and I could see straight down to Lake avenue where people often stand three rows deep screaming for their runners to come through. I was rigging bad and I knew I had to keep it easy to the finish. My right hamstring was hanging on my threads and I didn't want a full-on spasm to deal with. I passed the 25 mile mark and saw 2:32. That was supposed to be me at Little Angies passing under the finish banner. Could I run under 7 minutes for the last 1.2 miles? Hell no, but I kept the best mindset I could and tried to push as much as the hamstring would let me. Not to be, and after passing my lovely wife and child without a notice I made my way to the finish line. Wow, did it feel great to stop running. I wanted to stop so many times on London road and Superior street, knowing that I could rid any discomfort in a second by stopping. That is what makes the marathon so difficult. The latter miles can mess with your mind so bad, it's the ones that can say F-you I am not going to stop and keep running to the tape. I tried that, I just slowed a bunch.
(just a side note, I made the decision not to look at my watch from mile 16 to the finish. i ran on effort and that is where I started to slow??? HMMMM)
I want to thank so many people for being out there and yelling words of encouragement, except that asshole on Lemon drop, and I am so sorry I didn't acknowledge my wife and son, but I was so mentally shot I didn't hear them a bit. I am sure I didn't respond to many others as well. Sorry.
I am already signed up for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in Oct. and may the weather be on my side for once.
Here are the splits for those that like to look at that kind of thing:
2:41:14 26.2 miles
40th male, 46th overall, 4th in Masters, 3rd in 40-44 age group.