Back in October, I thought this was going to be a great idea. Well, here we were on race day and I was regretting it all. Come race morning, I am probably one of the biggest Debbie Downers out there. I might seem all happy on the outside, but that’s not really the case on the inside. On the inside I begin to question everything. I question my training, why I am doing this, if I should even be doing this and just get so negative. Well, the morning of Grandma’s was no different.
The alarms were set for 5am. Well, I was having a crazy dream that involved watches and in an incoherent state I looked at my watch and saw 5:30am. Well, my immediate thought was “OMG, KATHLEEN IS GOING TO KILL ME. OUR ALARMS DID NOT GO OFF.” I shot out of bed, said something about getting up and then in the same moment realized it was me who was wrong and then sent some apologetic sound her way and crawled back into bed. Yup, still on EST. Luckily it wasn’t like 2:30am and the alarms were to go off in about 30 minutes anyway.
After waking up at the right time, Kathleen and I slowly started getting ready. The shuttle buses were already starting to line up and the goal was to get on the bus by 6am, even though the race didn’t start until 7:45am. Since we had some time, I just threw breakfast and stuff in my checked bag. We got on the second to last bus out of the dorms and slowly started making our way to the start line. It took us nearly an hour to get up there. We got there just before 7am, but the bus line to get to the actual drop off point was pretty long. On the bus ride there, we pretty much just judged the runners around us, specifically the one throwing back a Mountain Dew and rice Krispy treat for breakfast.
Once we were off the bus, we went right for the port-o-potty line. We saw plenty, but we made the mistake of going to the ones on the right. There were no clear cut lines and that really screwed us over. I knew I had to go to the bathroom and would wait even after the race started, so as anxious as I was to get to the corral, getting to the bathroom took first priority. While we waited, I got my stuff together and Kathleen checked our bags. Around 7:35am, we parted ways as she wanted to get into the corral and I just still wanted to use a bathroom. Finally I saw no line on the opposite side so I ran that way. After all that wait, I was in and out of the bathroom in minutes. So, word of advice, go to the left at the start line and use the left side of the port-o-potties.
Somehow Kathleen and I found each other again as the corrals started. I was not going to jump right in as I wanted to focus on 5-hour time frame. When I signed up for this race, this so badly was my goal. As I knew coming out of a 50k, and 2 back to back marathons within 90 days of each, that was probably just not happening. The goal at this point was to just finish. I think.
Kathleen took off just before the 5-hour group and I stood there waiting. Finally I saw them and snuck in line. I figured if I can at least keep them out in front of me, things would be okay. Well, in no time, marathon number 5 had started and we were on our way.
The course for Grandma’s Marathon is mainly along the scenic highway. This has some positives and negatives. It’s gorgeous out there, but there is little to no shade. This part cost most runners dearly and me specifically since I had forgotten to put on sunscreen. They had been calling for storms, so I just honestly didn’t think of it. There was no shade on the course and not one single cloud in the sky the entire time.
The other downside is the course support. There just wasn’t much due to the nature of the course. However, when you needed people in that last 10k, they were around because you were finally in more residential areas. However, for those first 20 miles, there would be pockets where you just didn’t see any supports out there. I feed off crowd support, so for me that was hard. If you don’t care, then it shouldn’t be a big deal.
So, here I was.. Crossing the start line of my 5th marathon and the only goal was to finish. I immediately went with a 4:1 walk-run. I somehow started on the right hand side of the road and for the first few miles I just stayed there. These miles actually seemed to tick right off. The mile markers were well seen, so I knew when I had a one coming up. The first water stop though wasn’t until mile 3 but then every other mile there after until mile 19 and then every mile. Every water stop seemed to also have plenty of water, Gatorade, ice and some even had these amazing sponges!
By the time I got to the first water stop, I was feeling the heat already. It wasn’t too crazy, but you could tell it was just getting worse and worse with each mile. A lot of people were already complaining as well. I don’t wear headphones, so that’s the interesting part about these long races. You can just start chatting with people along the way but then you sometimes over hear some crazy conversations. Even though I was feeling the heat, it wasn’t slowing me down… Yet.
It was around mile 6 that I saw my first yellow flag. We did start under green conditions, but I knew that would’t last long. I thought to myself that yellow sucked, but it’s not the worst. At this point I was still on my 4/1’s and moving steadily. In fact I was starting to notice that I was getting closer and closer to the 5-hour pace group and my overall pace was hovering around 11:18-11:20. This wasn’t what I expected.
Now, I went into this race thinking that it was just about a finish. However, when I saw that I was not only going a PR pace but was going sub-5 hours, I got a little excited. I didn’t think the legs had it in them and I was feeling positive. I didn’t speed up, but my mind was starting to race. Could this happen? Could this be my sub-5 when I was even trying? I figured I’d just keep on going and what happened would happen.
Up through the first 11 miles, the legs and my mind were doing well. I felt that they were together on the journey and things were clicking. It was getting hotter and the lack of shade was really starting to bother me, but I was still doing okay. I was taking fuel at the right times and every water stop grabbing something, even if a sip. The volunteers out there were wonderful and really made sure every runner grabbed water that was reaching for it.
Then it happened. I was coming up to mile 12 and there it was. The Black Flag. As a runner, this is the one thing you never want to see during a race. For me I not only saw it hanging, but I saw officials actually putting it up. As I was watching this, I felt like I was getting kicked in the gut. The thoughts of how well I was doing immediately pushed out of my head for thoughts of fear. I knew I still have over half the race to go and I was scared at any point they now might pull runners from the race and stop it. I told myself that was not happening and that I was getting myself across the finish line with an official finish time no matter what it took.
Even though seeing the black flag go up, I was still on pace for around a 5 hour finish. In fact, around the mile 13 water stop, I actually passed the 5 hour pace group for a good 2 miles. I wasn’t very far in front of them, but it was a nice boost to have them behind me. I was passing runners and as I passed them, I kept telling myself that I was looking better than them and that I could do this. I was starting to drop pace a little, but not losing it all together quite yet.
Then I had a major bobble. I don’t even know why, but mile 17 wasn’t great. It was the first mile that I walked a lot more than I ran. It was also around this time that I really started getting off my 4/1 ratio. Through miles 13-16, I did get off the ratio a little, but nothing like in mile 17. My watched registered my first 13 minute mile and thought okay, well, it’s the wall. Hi, there.
I recovered in miles 18 and 19 as I got back down to the 11:50’s. At this time, I had officially lost my sub-5 time, but I was still on PR pace. I was happy to get the mojo back for those 2 miles. It didn’t last long though as it just all came crumbling down as I went into mile 20. I was crumbling and crumbling hard.
By this point in the race, I had literally seen several people go down in front of me or had passed a few people on the side waiting for medical. As a runner, I hate seeing this. It also mentally started to get to me. The heat and sun was just unbearable and it was finally taking it’s toll on me. I was barely moving along and I think at this point I started taking too much water. The only nice thing about this time though is that you were finally getting into the city of Duluth and there were spectators. Those who were out there along the course were great. Lots of cheers and some even handing out water. One guy looked at me and said to take a full bottle of cold water. I passed but he stood out of his chair and insisted. He could probably see the struggle bus that I was driving. When I took a sip it was the coldest, most glorious water I had ever had. Half went into my bottles and the other half over my head.
Then came Lemon Drop Hill around mile 22. I have to admit that yes I did walk up about half of it, because at this point I was doing a lot of walking, but I did not think it was a crazy hill. In fact, I was sort of laughing at how badly they made this hill out and it didn’t seem to be that bad. Once I got up it though I had a little surge. It wasn’t much, but I was talking myself into getting either 3:30/1:30 or 3:/2 run walks going. The just walking whenever was hurting me more, so I had to buckle down these last 4 miles and try and hit some ratios.
My pace was still very slow going, but the crowds and near finish line was helping put things back together. At one point we passed this car wash and there were a bunch of old ladies dancing it out. I so wish I could have pulled out my phone in time, but I was just dying laughing that I didn’t even think about it. I really hope other runners got to enjoy that show. They were great.
Around mile 24, I saw a runner being pulled out on a gurney. Crushed me. I just kept thinking how it could be me and how crappy I was feeling. To go down so close to the finish as well. I just hoped that runner was okay. I have to say all along the course, not even at the water stations necessarily, were medical people along the course to help out. Definitely hats off to race organizer for that one. They were even there if all you needed was some biofreeze or vaseline.
Running through downtown Duluth was nice. There was finally just even a little big a shade from the buildings that at one point I actually stopped and walked through it because it felt so great. When I hit mile 25 though, I had a nice last surge in me. It didn’t help that the start of it was a little downhill back down to the expo area. At one point I passed a group of people and they were cheering and yelled that I had less than a quarter of mile to go. Well, here’s one thing people.. do NOT ever tell a marathoner on the brink of the finish line you have a quarter mile to go when you really mean more than a half mile or more to go. Okay, I get it. It’s not a huge distance, but at the end of a race like this, it was to me. I wanted to go back and find those people and punch them. If you have no idea where you are on the course, just cheer. Don’t say anything about distance.
Finally after cutting through some random parking lot, I actually did come to the last 0.2 of the race. I was so happy to see that finish line. After getting my medal, I tried to make my ay through the finish line area. It wasn’t that well laid out and the only thing I ended up grabbing was water. In my opinion, the food options just weren’t great. It took awhile to find Kathleen as I apparently walked right by her, but we finally reconnected. She was happy to report back that she pounded out a PR! She just did awesome!!
After a few pictures by the lift bridge and taking some time to relax, we headed over to the beer tent. I was happy to see one of the options was a Stella Cidre. It was nice to see non-crappy beer options for a chance. I quickly finished the beer and we headed back to find the shuttles back to the dorms. We actually had no idea where they were, so we just followed the crowd. Luckily at least one runner seemed to know where they were going and we were successful in finding our bus!
We didn’t stay too long in the dorms as we cleaned up and hit the road back to Minneapolis. We stopped just outside of town at some restaurant that was fantastic and got back to our hotel around dinner. Since I was burned beyond repair, we headed over to a Rite Aid to get some Alocane. The burn was so bad and I was definitely a one sided lobster since the sun was on the left side the entire race. I ended up actually getting a 2nd degree sunburn on my shoulder. No fun at all.
Kathleen and I decided to hit the Mall of America since we had not been there before. Nothing like recovering from a marathon than walking around the biggest mall ever. If I could have a whole there I could definitely do some damage, but since we didn’t have a lot of time and my burn was just painful, I didn’t buy anything. I was proud of myself. We were both exhausted but grabbed a light snack at the bar and then quickly passed out. I also was planning on taking a chance to get on a 6am flight to get home earlier. Luckily for me, it worked and I got home over 13 hours before I was suppose to!
All in all, Grandma’s Marathon was a good race for me. Yes, I totally crumbled and was very disappointed in myself, but great friends reminded me that I did in fact post up my 2nd fastest marathon time in black flag conditions. If anything, this race showed me that that the sub 5-hour is there. I just need the right race and right conditions and I know I’ll get it. Even though the conditions were hellacious, I am glad I conquered Grandma’s and came out on the better end compared to so many runners. If you have ever considered running Grandma’s, do it. If you haven’t, well then still just do it. From my point of view, it should be a must run for many marathoners.
Official Finish Time:
1065/1546, F 19-34