Grandma’s Marathon Race Recap

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It’s hard to even start, because there’s so much amazing that happened and I don’t want to even think that it’s truly over.

This was my 6th Grandma’s Marathon…my 14th full overall.  Hands down, it takes the cake.  Now, I’m partial to Grandma’s anyway but this was different… The entire community rallied even more than they usually do.  The volunteers rallied, the residents rallied, the spectators rallied… I literally do not have words to explain how amazing Saturday’s race was.  Again, Grandma’s is usually one of the best, and most well organized marathons, but they (everyone) went above and beyond this year.

I’ll try to keep my thoughts collective, but I’m still dealing with a little bit of the post-race blues so my ADD might kick in at any moment… Bear with me!

The Expo:

Each year, the Grandma’s Marathon expo is one of the best… I never eat at the “all you can eat Michelina’s Spaghetti feed” but it’s always a spectacle.  Two Thousand pounds of noodles, five thousand pounds of sauce and 32-thousand meatballs is a little hard to miss. (source).  I’m more of the “grab-your-packet-and-go” kind of runner, but there were some great vendors with some awesome swag…

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The Weather:

Leading up to Grandma’s is always a gamble with the weather.  Lake Superior is a funny beast when it comes to climate control and that makes it almost impossible to predict.  As far as 2 weeks out there was chatter about it being a hot year… If you remember my pre-race post, 2009 was a bit brutal as they black flagged us and had tied the record for the warmest Grandma’s Marathon in history (that was the year I threw my pace out the window at mile 8 and just went for the finish instead).  I felt like I had a slight advantage to the heat, since my training has been in warmer and more humid conditions in Maryland than those back home have been training in… and as it would turn out, it made a world of difference both during the run, and in the recovery as well.

Friday night’s expo was cloudy, cool and breezy… but to no avail, Saturday we arrived at the start to heat, humidity and no cloud cover to help out.  The Duluth News Tribune reported 65F, and 88% humidity… Yuck! (source).  It would have it’s way with over 2,000 runners, as the DNT also reported that “from 9,572 marathon starters, 7,501 finished” the race on Saturday… That speaks volumes!

My Race:

My friend Nate and I planned to pace together between a 10-10:30mm as long as we could… His longest run was a 14-er and mine was a couple of 18’s around a 10mm pace.  I had 3 goals, which I have come to find is a great strategy for marathoning.  Have your official goal (break my 4:49:40 personal record), then have two alternative goals that you will be satisfied with (sub-4:30 finish, and extra-unofficially a 4:20ish finish which would be sub-10mm). With the forecast we threw out the 4:20 goal before we even started.  I had a 4:30 pace bracelet from the expo and Nate ran with his Garmin VivoActive (hint hint) to keep us on track and by the half way point we were still spot on.

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We took that easy pace in stride, hugging the shade when we could, cooling off with water, ice and sponges at the air stations, and I had a pretty good strategy in hind-sight to focus more on Powerade than water for consumption during the race.  I didn’t want to drink too much and risk getting “sloshy” but I didn’t want to get dehydrated either… I took 1-2 Powerades at each aid station, and a water to drink at every other… Most of the aid stations I was dumping water and ice on myself to stay as cool as possible (perks of being a woman = sportsbras can double as ice cube holders!)

Melissa borrowed me her “cooling towel” before I left Maryland… This is now an essential piece of hot-weather-race equipment that I will be investing in.  Word on the street is that you can get them at sporting stores and department stores… Read. my. lips: necessary.

Shortly after the half, the ever-so-often cool breeze from Lake Superior stopped, the sun had reached a height that made for less shade, and the temps were nearing the mid-70’s… I noticed Nate and I had less chatter and more focus.  He pulled ahead and I though “just keep him in sight… that’s your motivation… just keep him in sight.”

Mile 15 needed more inspiration, so I dedicated the next few miles to my cousin’s son, baby Grayson – who passed away at barely 6 months of age in March from Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndome and a number of other defects. It was my way of honoring his fight…

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Mile 18 I dedicated to my sister, who recently lost 18 pounds in a wellness challenge and has been making healthier choices for herself… If she can fight for 6 weeks, I can fight for a few more miles.

Mile 20 – I was craving pickle juice… Ice cold pickle juice.  I mentioned it to the gentleman beside me, and he concurred… Pickle juice would have HIT. THE. SPOT. I had to settle for ibuprofen and sunscreen at the aid station, and warm Powerade (sure, cold would have been nice, but I think they were having trouble keeping the ice from melting!).  The locals were out in full-force, too… Like, full force. Hoses, sprinklers, water guns, beer bongs… This is my favorite part of the race, because right when you need it, the massive support is there and in my 6 Grandma’s Marathons and 1 half, I have never seen a crowd like this in Duluth… Give yourselves the biggest pat on the back for making a native Duluthian-turned-Maryland resident proud!

At this point, I knew one of my best friends was right down the road waiting for me and that put a pep in my step!  I heard her yell my name and it took everything I had to hold back the tears… we hugged it out for a few seconds and she jogged with me to chat.  It was also at this point that I was very confident I was going to beat my PR (4:49:40), but I had to keep plugging away… Nate and I were still side by side, running the miles, and walking the water stops – a necessary strategy at this point.

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We also started seeing some of the effects of the heat on other runners.  Bodies laying in the grass, medical tents full at aid stations, runners moping up to curbs to stretch – no longer concerned with their finishing time and moreso concerned with just a finish.  But I still felt great… I actually commented to Julie a couple of times that – without jinxing it – I have never actually felt this great at this point in a marathon… Now that doesn’t mean I could have mustered up a faster pace by even a few seconds, I was still giving it everything I had… But everything I had felt good.

Mile 22 – Lemondrop Hill.  I walked the waterstop right before it like planned, then picked up my jog again and to my surprise I didn’t need to stop and walk once. Not. Once!  I jogged the entire Lemondrop Hill for the first time in my Grandma’s Marathon history! (Thank you, Melissa!)

Mile 24 – Fitger’s.  They yelled my name over the speakers!! What a boost of energy that was! My long-time friend Tiffany had finished the half and was relaxing with her bf, DJ’ing at Fitger’s and they cheered me on (as I was holding back the waterworks!).

Mile 24.9 – as I walked through the final water stop and prepared to turn down the last mile, I saw the official race clock: 4:43:XX… I knew I had about 7 minutes from the time the gun went off at the starting line, to the time when my chip actually crossed the starting line but seeing 4:43:xx made me panic!  My pace was probably around an 11:30 shuffle, and I had 1.2 miles to go with nothing left in the gas tank if I wanted to beat my 4:49:40 PR.  Julie was still by my side and I took off with everything I had.

Now, that last 1.2 miles is just about the longest few minutes of your life.  Forget the previous four and a half hours, that seems like just a blink in time… When you turn at mile 25 you have to run downhill (brutal) then up and over I35 (brutal), then around the back of the DECC (brutal), then down this stretch of roadway between the DECC and the ever-parked William A. Irvin with no shade, no wind, and brutal sun drenching you with no mercy… and you still have almost a half mile to go!

The race photographers don’t matter any more, you can hear the crowds cheering – some of them you even recognize as they yell your name – but there’s just the ever-growing pain of relentless forward motion to get that PR, even by a squeak of a few seconds.  Under the bridge, and around the corner to the home stretch and I will swear to you I have NEVER NEVER EVER heard the crowds cheering that loud before… with 0.2 miles to go, my emotions flood over me, I’m bawling my eyes out just to get across that finish line and it’s all captured in the expression on my face… Injury, a seemingly-relentless battle with mental health, a move 1200-miles away from home, running in my backyard next to the greatest of the Great Lakes, crossing a finish line I wasn’t sure I was going to see and there it was… the finish line 100 feet in front of me…

20 feet in front of me…

5 feet in front of me…

and finally, under my feet.

I sobbed.  Emily placed the medal around my neck (thank you!), and I sobbed.  I needed Julie to hold me up, my limp, sweaty nasty hug and I buried my face in her shoulder and sobbed.

And then I swore.  F-bombs left and right out of joy, pain and anticipation… “It’s going to be so f*in’ close… like within seconds, it’s going to be so f*in’ close!”

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Yep… like within seconds.  4:49:45.  Overall, a win though.  Because, seriously the social media chatter about the brutal conditions, the down’d runners, the over 2,000 that started and never finished made this a victory no matter what.  Add into that the fact that I was still touting how great I felt at mile 20…22…even 25!  That’s absolutely a win.

But now it makes me hungry…rungry! So what’s next!?

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