|After the race in front of the Party Bus|
Grandma's Marathon is one of the premier events of the area along with the Twin Cities Marathon and the American Birkebeiner. These are more than just races, they are a whole weekend of fun, camaraderie, and a great excuse to party. There is nothing more fun than entering the central vortex of excited/nervous energy that 10,000+ competitors create. I love how marathons cut through all the petty differences people cling to, and just allow people to help each other survive the race.
Throughout the week, it looked like the weather might be a little rough. Rain was predicted, and with the thunderstorms that had blown through in the previous days, you had to be a little nervous. But as I drove across the bridge heading into Duluth, the weatherman on the radio predicted a high of 60 with light rain.
"Perfect!" I said to myself.
This year I've already done two marathons, but I hadn't really run much since Eau Claire. The Eau Claire Marathon is a great event, but it doesn't match the spectacle of Grandma's, and you approach those two races with a different mindset. Lately, all I try to do is run the first half of a marathon hard, and then take it easy for the second half (usually by keeping company with Eric T.). But at Grandma's you always shoot for the best time possible. Eau Claire was on May 4th, and since then I'd run two 15 milers, a 12, a 10k, and a 5k. I'd spent most of my training hours on my bicycle. I had, however, used the time I ran to work on my speed (except in the 15 milers). I'm not very fast, but I'd been making myself run some 8 minute miles in every run in the hope of making a 9 minute mile feel easier.
But even with two marathons under my belt this year, I had no idea how I was going to feel at the big race (that's part of the fun). Sometimes you feel miserable at the start and set a PR, and sometimes you feel great and totally wash out. At this point in my marathon career, the best thing I can say is to just not waste energy worrying about it.
Leading up to the race, my wife and kids came out to enjoy the day. It was super cold on Friday though, and we were left scrambling to find any warm clothing that we could:
This was my wife's first trip to Superior, but unfortunately there was a fog on the lake so she still hasn't really seen it. Still we went into the sports bar across the slip bridge to watch Costa Rica beat Italy in their World Cup match (the current coach of Costa Rica used to coach one of Peru's best soccer teams).
Eric had told me that it's possible to just camp overnight at the DECC parking lot. "Bring a sleeping bag and a pillow and we'll do the rest," he said. That sounded good to me, and sure enough, the second I pulled in to the parking lot I saw Eric's big, gray party bus. He's modified a school bus into an awesome camper, and it was a good thing we had it because it was so cold that evening. Camping at the DECC is THE way to do this race! It puts you right down in the center of the action, lets you sleep in the morning of the event without having to worry about navigating traffic, and allows you to stay after the race to fully enjoy the post race party! I had two weddings to attend right after the run, so I had to split...but next year I want to make this a four day event--and I'll be sorely disappointed if I don't see Lone Wolf's Big Orange Beast (BOB) parked next to the party bus (c'mon Jeff...that motor home was CONSTRUCTED for this)! If I can't get BOB to come, maybe Cyclova is going to have to just invest in a vehicle like that! This is a pre-made party people, it's the biggest thing around! I kept trying to convince all the young guys and gals on the team to come up for this. Seriously folks, you'd be surprised how many of the marathoners stick around to dance after the race (and before)...come out, bring a bicycle, enjoy the fun...heck, even do the marathon if you feel you need to! Let me say it again in case I haven't been clear--It's a FOUR DAY PARTY!!! The Birkie would be like this too if it wasn't always -165,000 degrees on that weekend.
My wife did the 5k along with my mom, which allowed for some fun pictures:
Sofia sprinting to the line with mommy.
Ok...so just tell me that seeing all that doesn't make you come out and run!
After the event, my wife and kids went home and we went to bed for the next day's event. I slept great in that camper and woke up feeling good to a cool, misty 40 degree day.
We headed up to the start line, and my race strategy was the same as it always is: go as fast as possible for the first half, then just survive to the finish. Actually, that's not the smartest race strategy, but sometimes these marathons get really hot, so I always like to get as much done as possible while you still have the advantage of the cool morning air. The gun for Grandma's goes off at 7:45, and it's a lot easier to run hard at 8 am than it is at 12 or 1 in the afternoon.
I hadn't done a sub 2 hour half marathon in more than a decade, so I was kind of hoping to be able to do that at Grandma's. In fact, my best ever half marathon happened at Grandma's when I ran a 1:29 en route to a 3:29 finish. Yeah...again, maybe not the smartest race strategy, but my goal was to do a sub 3:30 so I got the job done.
We hung around at the starting area for the last jittery hour before the race. This naturally included a trip to the port-a-pots. They always put the port-a-pots in a big square, so you're best off finding a line that is on one of the corners of the square. Those lines move faster because they have access to 6 or 7 toilets, as opposed to the 2 or 3 you get in the other lines. We got in line, but it didn't take long to realize that we'd made a mistake because the guy at the front of our line kept glancing around behind him as he waited. That was all well and good except that every time he'd glance around, a port-a-pot door would open and somebody else would go and take it. I don't know what this guy's deal was, it was as if he was trying to say, "yeah...I'm at the front of the line for the toilet, but I'm so darn cool that it just doesn't impress me...I wonder what's going on over there?"
Seriously folks, this is the kind of thing that can throw you into an unreasonable rage just before a race. EVERYBODY has to go to the bathroom and if you're not going about the bathroom routine in an orderly and efficient manner, you're inconveniencing a TON of people. I finally started yelling, "don't look back here, look over there! There's nothing over here that should interest you!" When a door opened I shouted, "there...go Marine go!" It still took about 8 more lost opportunities before the doofus deigned to shuffle forward and get his job done (I think I'm going to have to write a whole article on port-a-pot line etiquette).
But we got through that, and before you knew it, the gun had gone off and we were pounding the pavement. The cool weather made you want to run hard just to warm up, so I took advantage of that to go as hard as possible. The first miles go by in a blur, as you wind down a scenic road that runs along the lake. You're in the countryside for a lot of Grandma's marathon, but there are a lot of people along the way who come out to spectate and cheer.
I did the fastest 10k I've done in a long time, and as the half approached I knew I was going to do it in under 2 hours. I crossed the halfway point and decided to try and keep the pace going for a mile or two, but as I ht mile 14, I was consistently seeing a 9+ pace rather than a 9- pace. That was OK. I figured that the longer I could keep it under 10, the better. Miles 13 to 18 went well and then I felt myself slowing again. I was hurting by 20, but that's to be expected. Marathons are kind of funny. It can truly be said that the whole race takes place in miles 20 to 26. You can think you're having a spectacular run, and then lose two hours in miles 20-26. That's when the pain catches up to you and the people that can push through it separate themselves from those who can't.
Well, Grandma's makes it easier on you because you're running through town and there are a lot of people to cheer you on. I started looking for frat boys giving out beer, and found a group of them around mile 21. I was hoping to get a can, but these frat boys had planned ahead and were handing out plastic cups with just a little tiny bit of beer in the bottom (I was sorely disappointed...when did frat boys start remembering to buy glasses so they could ration their beer?). I managed to mitigate this problem by grabbing TWO of the glasses, much to the joy of the frat boys, "that guy took TWO!"
The beer gave me a lift and allowed me to elevate my pace and get over Lemon drop hill where I ran over and grabbed another beer from a spectator. "I need beer!" I said. "Ok," the lady said, handing me her plastic cup. I sipped on that until about mile 24, and by then I felt I was going to finish.
I was having trouble calculating my finish time (because I was tired, not because of the beer), and was pretty sure 4:30 was attainable. Still, every now and then as I hit a mile marker and did the math, I thought a 4:19 might be possible. I took as much momentum as I could running down the hill that leads into the DECC and kept glancing at my watch. If I really pushed it...maybe...I could do a sub 4:20! I dug down, but the effort didn't last too long and I settled in to finish at 4:22. I guess in the grander scheme there's not much of a difference between running a 4:19 and a 4:22...but marathoners like to see 1s and 9s more than 2s. A finish time of 2:59 is infinitely better than 3:01 because when you are telling your time to people later you can say, "yeah I finished in TWO..." and the person who is listening to is overwhelmed with amazement at your athletic prowess.
It's all kind of silly, but that's the way it is.
Grandma's gives a great read out of your splits. Here's mine:
Really a fun day, and the fastest marathon I've run in 15 years or so. If I'd done the first half in 2:05, could I have finished in 4:15...meh...I'd rather go out fast and maybe someday the stars will align and I'll just carry it through to the end.
In the meantime, this race has me pretty psyched for the GandyMarathon! On a flat course like that a sub 4 hour run might be possible (remember to register before July 1st to get the discounted rate). I'd really like to see a dozen or so of our Cyclova people at Grandma's next year. Like I said, you don't have to race! Just plan on going up there and soaking it all in! Grandma's is one of the best events around!