Thursday, June 24, 2010

Happy Day!

Tonight I went on my first "regular" run since the final days of my taper on June 3rd: "Regular" run meaning something between the piddly 6/10th of a mile stroll to the gym and two maniacal 26.2 miles of race excitement.

I went on my regular 5-mile run on my regular Lake Calhoun route because of one major reason...

You better believe I totally wore my sweet Marathon Maniacs singlet out on a leisurely jog! Sometimes you just have to pimp the goods, right?!

I'm planning on taking a break from hardcore training (for now), and I'm excited to get back into a simpler routine of improving my overall fitness and giving my hip flexors and IT band a rest. During the few short runs I've taken to the gym to cross train this week, I've been having shooting pains in my right knee whenever I step on it. It doesn't hurt when I'm standing, walking, or even biking ... it only happens when that foot pushes off the ground while running. I've got the July 4th half marathon, during which I'm super excited to run yet ANOTHER race this year with Racing Queen Julie (!!), but I plan on taking it easy until then in hopes this pain goes away.

Today I also met this sweet little babe crossing a parking lot. I named him Tiny Tim and tried to put him in my pocket, but then figured he was more of a teenage turtle and changed his name to Michelangelo. I escorted him to the nature preserve where the cool dude now parties.
Today was a good day.

5-mile splits: 9:07, 9:27, 9:38, 9:19, 9:30
Air Temp: 84F

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Race Recap: Grandma's Marathon

I now feel slightly guilty that I kept my Marathon Maniac secret from those who have encouraged me along my marathon journey, but I just want everyone to know they are in good company.

During the course of training for these marathons, I told just one friend, one parent, and one running coach about my Maniac goal. My friend pushed me, encouraged me, and made me feel good about my ambition; my mom offered me a loving perspective on how dangerous she thought it was; and my coach provided me non-biased physical and nutritional guidance during the training, races, and recovery.

In the 12 days between the two races -- as I felt better and knew I would be able to do two marathons on a compact agenda -- I told only a handful of others with caution. I knew that everyday people wouldn't understand my draw to the Maniacs, and doing so while sounding sane was going to be a struggle. I knew that some fellow runners might understand the extreme appeal of the group, but then I didn't want to jinx myself.

So I didn't mention anything out of fear: Out of fear I would get injured and have to quit training, out of fear I would drop out of one of the races, out of fear I was going to get slow times to be able to finish both marathons, I didn't say a word. Now I'm ready to talk ... a lot!

34th Annual Grandma's Marathon

On Friday morning my friend Gramps and I headed up to Duluth, Minnesota. Duluth is about 2.5 hours northeast-ish of Minneapolis, and they house the most populous and prestigious marathon of the Midwest, Grandma's Marathon. The entire weekend is known as being a massive festival for regular runners, elite runners, former record holders, Olympic champions, fans, families, and friends.

Since it is officially road construction season, we left early on Friday to get there in time for packet pick-up, expo goodness, speakers, an all-you-can-eat pasta dinner, and a full night's rest. Unlike most marathons, Grandma's is a Saturday-morning race, leaving everyone with the remainder of the weekend to party ... really hard. Most hotels in the area -- while mainly cashing in on the tourism -- require a 2-night stay: This ended up being a blessing. This meant more time to celebrate my new Maniac status!

Pre-Race Excitement

When I checked in to my hotel in downtown Duluth, I walked into star treatment. The front desk guided me to a room that had a bunch of snacks, treats, goodies, and drinks for the runners. Even the lobby was decorated with cute posters from local elementary schools. I felt like a celebrity, and it was clear that Duluth takes a lot of pride in their race.
Artistic Gramps sized up past poster artwork. Pretty sure he got some new money-making ideas.
The race expo was held at a convention center across from my hotel, and was bustling, loud, and popular. All of the expos I have been to are for small, local events: no guest speakers, very few free samples, no sales people selling you running apparel and products. This was a Sea of Expo Insanity and I got suckerpunched in the stomach with the love of all-things running: Dick Beardsley, Hal Higdon, Kara Goucher, and Constantina Dita's coach were all featured speakers; I cheered on runners doing a local 5k on Friday night; and I ate two plates of pasta with a billion other runners who where anticipating this beautiful Lake Superior run the next morning. The energy was contagious despite my disdain of shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. With the pain of my first marathon fresh in mind, I was not looking forward to a second marathon so soon ... but being at the expo fired me up.

Gramps was a good sport for letting me subject him to this craziness.
Kara Goucher hiding her pregnant belly behind a table.I had to stop by the Brooks booth ... and make fun of the doofus who ruined my shot.
After stuffing ourselves with way too many carbs at Grandma's Saloon & Grill, Gramps and I wandered around Canal Park to check out the lighthouses, the Aerial Lift Bridge, and the boardwalk along Lake Superior.

Canal Park Lighthouse
Aerial Lift Bridge
As we were heading to a bar to grab a locally brewed beer, we ran into Julie! I had just told Gramps that Julie was running the half marathon and I said something like, "wouldn't it be crazy if we ran into her?" as we nearly bumped shoulders on the sidewalk. I let Julie in on my little double-marathon secret, met her charming husband, and chatting for a few minutes about the race. Julie radiates excitement and constant enthusiasm -- it was great to see her among all the pre-race craziness!It's Go Time!

I went to sleep super early while Gramps headed out on his bike to explore Duluth and meet up with some other friends he knew in the city. The next morning my alarm went off at 4:45a.m., I threw on my running clothes, grabbed my pre-made breakfast, and caught a bus to Two Harbors to toe the starting line. Because the race is run on the highway, vehicles are not allowed at the starting line of Grandma's course. The buses were packed with half-sleeping, yet still excited, runners. I ended up sitting by a 2:15 Kenyan marathoner, and picked his brain about his life in Kenya, running, racing, training, and fueling. The cultural differences of the sport are fascinating.
Because this race was twice as large as the Minneapolis Marathon, the start was much more crowded: I thought the Minneapolis Marathon was a mad cattle call ... this race was a full-on slaughterhouse. Corny music blasted through loudspeakers (I should have saw the Rocky theme song coming when the starting gun went off), and when the Blue Angels flew over during the Star-Spangled Banner, I got really excited to get going. I knew better than to start with the 4-hour pace group this time, so I cozied into a space between the 4:15 and 4:30 groups. All I had to "officially" do was finish in 7 hours, and knowing my body was in fragile shape from the previous marathon, I didn't want to push it too hard.

The starting line is wayyyyyyy up there, pretty much out of site. Gulp.
The starting gun went off at 7:30a.m., and I finally got to the starting mat around 7:35. The first half of the marathon was relatively easy as I shuffled along at my slower pace. The most difficult thing about this point-to-point course was the lack of crowds along the way. Miles 1 through 18 miles were pretty desolate with just a few random small-town Minnesota folks sitting at the end of their driveways to cheer. There were a few funny costumes and some high-school marching bands playing, otherwise it was quiet.

This hand symbol looks a lot like I'm announcing that I am not a crook, but I meant for it to mean 2 marathons in 2 weeks. :)
The lack of crowds was replaced with breathtaking scenery, though: running along Lake Superior in the summer foliage was invigorating. The gentle, rolling hills made for a little challenge, but the lake breezes and the humid summer air made the longest portion of the race feel more like a training run with a bunch of friends.
Unlike my first marathon, I found myself struggling right away. With the troubles I've been having with blisters and toenails lately, I decided to pull my Glycerin 7s out of the closet and ditch the Defyance 4s I had trained the last few months in. It was risky switching shoes the day of the race, especially when I hadn't had them on my feet for months, but I knew my Defyance shoes were causing my foot issues. I figured I had nothing to lose by wearing my favorite shoes -- I was either going to get a blister ... or get a blister. My toenail was either going to fall off ... or, yup, it was going to fall off. I might as well wear shoes I trusted and hope for the best. They did not disappoint in the foot department, either -- my blister re-emerged but did not pop, and my toenail stayed on -- but I noticed right away that my knees and ankles started hurting. I hoped this was a temporary readjustment to the shoes and that I would forget about it in a few miles. It was not temporary.

At mile 8.5, another Brooks runner came up to me and said hi. He was the only Brooks ID runner I saw during the entire race! It was his first marathon, and he blew right by me after just a few exchanged words. Way to go, little guy.
I was planning on taking scheduled walk breaks after the half-marathon point, but I ended up taking my first walk break at mile 10. Once the crowds started to thicken up near the Duluth city limits, I ditched the idea of walking at certain mile markers and instead chose to walk through the water stops instead. When I didn't have the mile markers in my view, I kept on at my pace (unlike, at Minneapolis, I walked when my body told me I was going to walk). I never felt out of breath or tired during this race, but I felt terrible stiffness and achy-ness in my joints. Despite these pains, I ran smarter and stronger during this race even though I was moving slower.
At mile 17 I ran into a Marathon Maniac who was shuffling along. I asked him a few questions about his experience with the group and told him that I was eligible to join if I finished. He told me, "The greatest thing about the Maniacs is that no one cares about your time. We just all come out here to have fun." That was EXACTLY what I wanted to hear. I put so much pressure on myself to get a certain time or feel a certain way or place in a certain percentile. I have learned that the marathon is very hard for me personally; I loved hearing him tell me that I can do this at my own pace and still feel like I belong to a club without needing to be competitive. Running alongside another Maniac at the point where I realized I've gone a long way, but still had a very long way to go, was perfect.
At mile 20 I sent Gramps a text message letting him know where I was at and approximately how much time I guessed I had left. He never got back to me and I was hoping he was awake after his late-night rendezvous. I really wanted someone to be there for me at the finish line, and I heard nothing from him. At mile 22, I felt a tap on my shoulder. There was Gramps, on his silly bicycle, cheering me along! Right as I was saying, "Please don't leave! Bike right beside me!" some course officials demanded he get off the route. He tried biking along the sidewalks where people were cheering, but within a few minutes I had lost him in the crowds. Just seeing him for those few minutes made me feel really good about not needing to drop out.
I hammed it up to every camera I saw during the last couple of miles because I knew I was actually going to do this! I was looking forward to savoring this sweet accomplishment. I was not moving as fast as I would have liked, but I ran strong and I gave everything I had until the very end. I did this race in more time than it took me to finish my first, but I felt a million times better about how I did.
Post-Race Celebrations

After I sat in an ice bath, stuffed myself with amazing Mexican food, and laid low for a few hours, Gramps and I headed out on the town for the infamous post-race after parties. There are a number of breweries in Duluth that have delicious, delicious beers. We met up with another Minneapolis friend we stumbled across in some random parking lot and enjoyed a few too many local brews to local music.

Canal Park at dusk.
Fitger's bar with an in-house brew. This is what a tired new Maniac looks like!
Sad, misguided youth playing in some dark and lonely basement bar.
This race and the whole weekend was amazing, and if the pain of actually running 26+ miles wasn't at the forefront of my mind, I'd willingly do this course again. It is worth noting that there isn't much shade and we lucked out with thick clouds and a few raindrops to cool us off, as the last few years have been unseasonably hot. The route was very flat with hardly any turns (aka: good for my terrible tangents skillz). The scenery was nice and all of Duluth showed up to cheer on the runners -- it was wonderful how supportive the entire city was.

The only gripe I have about Grandma's is the cost. Because Duluth counts on the crowds this time of year, all the hotels in the area jack up their prices and require multiple-night stays. Most runners book their hotel a year in advance; those not as lucky find that rates are even higher a few months heading into the race. Restaurants in town also have special menus -- the "special" being higher prices on their regular items. The cost for registration wasn't out of ordinary, but all totaled, runners are looking at one hefty weekend getaway.

However, the race was still a world-class event and the experience was worth every penny. It's a really fun race that draws impressive athletes and everyday people alike. I'm happy I finally did it after years of living nearby.
Oh yeah. And I'm also an official Maniac now and my bright yellow singlet is in the mail! :D

Time: 4:39:19
Average Pace: 10:40/mile
Overall Place: 3,583 of 5,606
Gender Place: 1,147 of 2,147
Age/Gender Place: 649 of 1,162

26.3-mile splits (much better tangents this time!):
1: 9:49
2: 9:37
3: 9:57
4: 9:37
5: 9:37
6: 9:59
7: 9:43
8: 9:49
9: 9:51
10: 9:32
11: 10:12
12: 9:53
13: 9:50
14: 10:02
15: 10:42
16: 11:47
17: 11:18
18: 11:23
19: 10:19
20: 13:05 (I sent a bunch of text messages and even wrote an e-mail. Sue me.)
21: 11:41
22: 11:21
23: 11:42
24: 11:07
25: 12:41
26: 11:03
.3: 3:28
Air Temp: 60F at the start, 64F at the finish

Saturday, June 19, 2010

She's a Maniac, Maniac!

I have a little confession to make.

The "MM" I wrote on my hand during the Minneapolis Marathon didn't completely stand for "Minneapolis Marathon."
It also stood for "Marathon Maniacs" -- a fanatical group of crazy runners that, upon reading their philosophies on running and life, I knew I had to be a part of. All I had to do was run a couple of marathons to join.

A handful of bloggers I have been following for years are Maniacs and one other became a Maniac during the time I have followed her. The more races I ran around the Twin Cities, the more bright yellow Maniac singlets I saw on the courses ... and the more I wanted to join that insane group.

So when I set my New Year's goals in late 2009, I included this on the list:

1. Get sponsored by Brooks.
2. Run a marathon. Addendum: No, don't run a marathon: Join the Marathon Maniacs!
3., 4., and 5. A few other personal things that aren't worth sharing here.

The very basic "Bronze" level of joining the Maniacs:
  • 2 marathons within a 16-day time frame, OR
  • 3 marathons within a 90-day time frame
The Dean-Karnases level of the Maniacs, "Titanium" criteria (yes, people do accomplish this every year):
  • 52 marathons or more within 365 days, OR
  • 30 marathons in 30 U.S. states, countries, or Canadian provinces (any combination) within 365 days, OR
  • 20 countries within 365 days
The 10 levels of the Maniacs run the gamut, too, and the only shot I stood at joining was doing 2 marathons in 2 weeks. When I registered for the Minneapolis Marathon, I signed the waiver with full awareness that Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota was 13 days later -- and I registered for that race at the same time. And then I went into training and recovery with 100% focus, care, seriousness, and honesty with my body, knowing that I was going to do something with a lot of potential hazard on my health.

So, this weekend I checked off another 2010 goal: I joined the Marathon Maniacs by running 2 marathons in 13 days.**
Coming soon: Grandma's Marathon race recap!

**Come on, you didn't think I'd really give up 18 weeks of my life to train for one 26.2-mile race, did you? The only way I could justify running and cross training that much was to at least do two. We aren't called Maniacs for nothing!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Product Review: CEP Compression Sportsocks

Go ahead and page the geriatric unit right now, I'll wait.

While my mind has been focused on recovery lately, I thought it would be appropriate to review one of the latest (and arguably greatest) things I've stumbled upon that's been making my life feel a little more complete: the CEP Compression Sportsock.
CEP Compression Sportsocks are supposedly proven to help speed up and promote recovery in athletes -- and while I was never very good at science and will never claim to know much about scientific theory, it sounds nice. Apparently when these socks are worn during and after activity, it increases blood flow and provides more oxygen to the musculater blah blah blah I don't know what any of their big words mean. But I do know that these socks feel fantastic!

  • These socks truly are anatomically correct. I have an issue putting left socks on my right foot and visa versa -- even anatomically correct socks -- without noticing the difference. But these socks truly feel weird on the wrong feet. I don't know why this makes me so happy, but I imagine it wouldn't make me happy to wear the wrong sock on the wrong foot, just like I wouldn't be happy wearing the wrong shoe on the wrong foot.

  • They are so freaking comfortable, and I'm going to openly admit that without any ambiguity. I usually put them on after a long run, and it gives my calves a lot of relief from the workout I just put them through. This makes some sense: Imagine you pound your finger or stub a toe; this first thing you do, if you don't put it in your mouth (gross), is apply pressure. Applying pressure to your entire lower leg after a hard workout is a lot easier than fitting it in your mouth.
  • These socks are incredibly well-made. I think the heels and toes are about 5 times reinforced and I have no concerns about them wearing thin or getting holes anytime soon. Despite being worn repeatedly, they stay precisely fit to my feet and calves.

  • These really don't get uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time (which I actually haven't figured out if that's a good or bad thing to do yet). Sometimes when I'm feeling wild and daring, I like to wear them to sleep. Please laugh. And then go try for yourself. When you wake up and your calves feel like a million bucks, it'll be a great start to your day as well.
  • They come in pink!
  • I wore these out for a recovery run a few weeks ago and noticed that they got a little too hot. Depending on the season and where you live, I'm not sure these are the best early-summer sock. They aren't very breathable, and I noticed my calves started feeling warm to the touch. Perhaps these invisible flames were actually my enhanced performance? Doubtful. 

  • They tend to run a bit small, and I don't think that's the compression element. Even after measuring my calves for accurate sizing, they were mildly uncomfortable the first two or three times I had them on. I think they took nearly 5 minutes to put on the first time I tried them. Figuring they were, hello, compression socks, my best guess was that a tight fit was natural. However, now that they are broken in, they are more comfortable to wear and much easier to put on. They clearly are still tight, but not uncomfortably tight. 
  • They tend to run a bit tall. I'm not exactly what you would call a tall person (5'4", if you're curious), and the elastic at the very top of the sock actually goes onto my knee if I pull them all the way up. I try to leave a little slack, but then they sit in a weird spot in my kneepit. I have noticed, especially when wearing these for more than a few hours, that that elastic in my kneepit can get a little itchy and minorly irritating. Then I just yank my granny socks down a little (they truly don't budge when they are on!) and we're good again.
My short little legs in too-tall socks. This is how they fit when I pull them on loosely. If I were to pull them all the way up while stretching them on, they'd cover half my knee.

Overall, these socks have a pretty hefty price tag for being *cough* A SOCK, but I believe the cost is worth it. I can't put a price on comfort or feel-goodness (and supposed faster recovery?!), but I can maybe try to put a price tag on a beautiful (yup, I said it) compression sock that doesn't stretch, fray, or pill.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"So What Was Written on Your Hands?"

I'm slowly making my way back into working out, all thanks to the close monitoring of my running coach/athletic advisor/fitness trainer/nutrition expert/whatever-you-want-to-call-that-trained-athletic-guy-at-my-company-whom-I-ask-questions-from-afar.

My feet were pretty sore on Sunday after the marathon, and on Monday I had some lingering pains in my shoulders and lower back, probably from not watching my form and taking the easy way out of strenuous movement. By Tuesday the pain hit my legs and I spent most of the day working with my swollen feet elevated. By Wednesday I felt 100% back to normal, even though I knew I was not. My blister is slowly healing as I keep clipping off dead skin, and I have a new development: my big toenail on my right foot is falling off. If Mark Remy is right in saying that losing a toenail is a rite of passage, I think I'm officially a runner!

My running coach advised that I not run for 10 days after the marathon, because, even though I may feel fine, there's a lot of muscle tears and damage I am not necessarily feeling. Getting back into training too soon could cause further damage to my muscles, and could even lead to sprained ankles, twisted knees, or other more serious injuries. He has also given me a list of foods to eat and things to drink that are high in antioxidants to promote recovery. Any excuse to drink more coffee is a good enough reason for me.

I'm taking his advice seriously since I want to get back into doing some fun summer races (I was asked to join a 5-person half-marathon team on July 4th; man I hope we have matching costumes!) without needing too much time off, and yesterday I had his blessing to go on my first bike ride. I made a short 5-mile loop to the grocery to pick up a few things. Tomorrow I plan on heading to LA Fitness for the first time in what seems like eternity. I went a few times to use the sauna and relax my muscles during my taper, but I can't wait to leave some real sweat in the gym.

Sadly, my coach advised me to not work out for more than 30 minutes and at no more than 50-60% of my max, and that just seems kind of pointless to me. While I don't run to get a workout -- I run because I love it, and the workout element is an added bonus -- biking at an easy pace seems like a waste of time. What he wants me to do sounds like merely keeping my joints moving, rather than using my body to any degree of real labor. I'm sure that's exactly what he's going for.

Lately I've been thinking about how I feel fine to run and I'm seriously itchy to get back into it. It's really hard to hold myself back when when I see people jogging the Greenway. This has made me curious why some people need weeks to heal, whereas other people run marathons every weekend and never need any recovery time. What do you guys do to heal after strenuous workouts? How much time off to you feel you personally need? When do you decide to push through the pain, and when do you decide to take a break?

A few of my candid race pictures showed that I had words written on my hands. Since I look down when I run, I did this to remind myself of a few things.
I grew up as a left-handed gymnast, but I am definitely not a left-handed writer.
  • I tried to remind myself that the 2010 Minneapolis Marathon (MM) was my race -- I was drawn to it at this time in my life, and I was born to run it.
  • It was only 26.2 miles. And yes, that is definitely a long, long way to run, it was nothing compared to what other people do. While I was thinking specifically of ultramarathoners and people who do 26.2 miles as their warm-up, I also thought of it in a way that some people never get to run a marathon. So many people have much larger battles they power through every day, and I'm so lucky that I get to do "just 26.2."
  • "Enjoy" and "smile" are things I wanted to do during the entire experience, and "dig deep" is what I repeat in my head so I don't vomit everywhere ... especially as I pick up my shuffle near the finish line.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Race Recap: Minneapolis Marathon

I now know what the "That's What She Said!" sign I saw in the crowd meant: This was the hardest thing I've done in my life.

The Minneapolis Marathon was Sunday morning, and the weather was calling for slight breezes, bright skies, and moderate temperatures. All of that is fine for sunbathing and grilling, but when you are climbing up and down a number of hills that bring you closer to the sun each time AND you're running a foot race, it wasn't the best combination of elements. This race was an immense physical challenge -- I hardly had time to struggle mentally during the race, unless you can count holding back swearing at my feet for not wanting to move at the ankles a mental struggle.

Let's start at the beginning.

As predicted, I left my apartment as the sun was barely rising, which is immediately a downer. But it was so much sweeter when I saw this as I was locking the door to my apartment.

I have the cutest neighbor friends.
I found a parking spot close to the finish line, ate my pre-race breakfast in my car, and walked over to Race Village in time to say hi to a couple of people from the training group and hop in the mile-long Biffy line. The crowd was already buzzing, and I kept my eyes peeled for Absolut(ly) Fit, aka 50by25, aka Laura Skladzinksi, aka the youngest person to run 51 marathons in 50 states + Washington, D.C. at the ripe young age of 24 years and 10 months. I've been following Laura's blog for a number of years now, and was aghast when I read that her final race to shatter the current age record (28 years and 10 months) was going to be the Minneapolis Marathon. I knew we ran at a similar pace and had somehow convinced myself I was going to bump into her.
I hopped behind the 9:09 pace group (4-hour marathon) thinking that I was rested, I was ready, I was awesome, and I only had to run this race once, so I might as well give it everything I have. The gun went off 8 seconds to 7:00a.m., the crowd crawled its way toward the starting line, and 2 minutes after the gunfire, I crossed the chip-timing mat to start my first marathon.
The first 10 miles of this race were like a mad cattle call. It was more chaotic than many of those crazy music festivals I went to during my college years. I was trying to stick with the 9:09 pace group, but ended up bobbing and weaving through 5,999 other people who I felt were trying to do the same. At no point did I have time to notice I was going too fast -- I was too frustrated that people were moving over without looking who was behind them. I got side-checked by way too many people, I stepped on someone's shoe (and made the heel come off ... sorry, but you deserved it for not signaling your lane change), and I really questioned whether I wanted to be with a pace group at all. I backed off a few seconds but kept the group in my vision, and let everyone else fight for those few inches of space.

Miles 10-16 were amazing. I was going at my own speed, I saw a coworker and her son (and ran over to give them a high five), and after the half marathoners crossed the turnaround, the runners thinned out and I caught up with the now-much-smaller 4-hour pace group. I was feeling awesome! I was feeling strong! I was having a good first marathon! And then we got to Snelling Lake.

If you recall a previous picture I took of Snelling Lake (where all the awesome airplanes flew just feet overhead), it's a dirt trail. Well, it rained all day Saturday, and it was no longer a dirt trail on Sunday. Mud was splattering everywhere, my feet and shoes kept slipping around, I could hardly keep my balance, I completely lost site of the pace group, and my mile splits started slip-sliding away.

Not to fret, though; my goal wasn't to shoot for a specific time -- I was aiming to have fun. During those muddy miles, four airplanes soared directly overhead and I was enjoying it!

Then my iPod died. And I mean died, as I tripled checked that it was fully charged. Also nothing to worry about -- I put it in my pocket and listened to the birds, planes, crowds, and my breathing instead. That was more fun than the perfect playlist I spent weeks putting together anyway.

At the end of Snelling Lake was the huge Historic Fort Snelling hill, which conveniently happened before runners hit "the wall," but after the point of exhaustion. I opted to walk up the hill rather than run it and burn out, requiring a few more miles of recovery. At the very top of the hill were two more coworkers, their spouses, and their children. Seeing them was enough to get me to start running again and slap some more high-fives. I remember telling them that the race was harder than I was imagining it to be. Boy, did I speak way too soon. One of my coworkers -- a repeat marathoner -- told me that by mile 18 at his first marathon, he didn't look nearly as good as I was looking. He thought I looked to be in great shape and that my spunk would help me pull through the upcoming tough parts. That optimism I got from him, however, did not last long.
The sun was beating down on me, the humidity was creeping higher, and I was doing my best to stay hydrated (water and PowerAde on the course), take in some fuel (a half of a pb-tortilla wrap, one and a half packages of Sports Beans, and an orange slice I got on the course), but I knew I had gone out too quickly during the first half of the race. I really started struggling to keep my legs moving, and I vowed to myself that I would walk 1 minute during every mile to keep making progress. Then I told myself I could walk through every water stop as well. And then it came down to I could walk 1 minute for every half mile, plus all the water stops. The pain I was feeling was greater than I am able to express, and it was a very eye-opening place to be. I felt defeated, small, weak, and completely unable to control my legs and feet. I kept trying to tell myself I was awesome and re-read a few phrases I had written with a Sharpie onto my hands. I was still doing more "running" than walking, so I made myself become okay with my new standard.

By mile 20 I was desperate to see another familiar face because all the elements were really taking a toll on me. My coworker agreed to run with me from miles 22-25 since I wanted support for my "new" uncharted miles, but she was going to drop out in time for the finish. I sent her a text message at mile 21 asking if she could meet me any sooner. She was with her son and didn't want to leave him. I was dying, and I wanted my mom. Or a motherly coworker.

Instead, I got Steve Stenzel.

Steve "in a Speedo" Stenzel is another blogger I follow. He's a St. Paul-based triathlete who's quite famous in the blog circuit for being riotous, raunchy, debaucherous, sometimes-inappropriately dressed, relatively unhealthy in his diet, and a victoriously speedy swimmer+runner+biker. Steve was not running the race, but instead was on a jog in preparation for the Liberty Olympic Triathlon next weekend. The marathoners were running on the road, and I spotted Steve on the path heading toward us. "Steve in a Speedo! Where are your bowl of sunshine shorts?" (I have seen a trillion+1 pictures of this guy in far-too-tiny yellow shorts; I figured he lived in them. Apparently when he's not running races, he's still out running nearly nude.)

I felt like I saw a celebrity. Imagine my excitement when he turned around mid-stride, ran about a quarter mile with me, and asked a few questions about me and the race. He congratulated me on doing my first marathon and wished me luck. It was great! I asked to take a picture with him and, sure I cut a few seconds off my time (and a few inches off my face), but this was also adding to the fun I was collecting!
The mile 22 water stop came around the corner and my coworker was there with her son. They hopped in the race and she immediately started showering me with words of praise, telling me I looked good and had a huge smile (it was true -- I was so happy to see her and was really trying to enjoy the experience despite my pain), and kept telling me phrases I asked her to repeat to me. I would stop to walk and she and her son would walk with me, then we would jog a bit and she'd shower me with more positivity. But the truth is, I was pretty loopy and delirious at that time. I remember saying "I hurt," "Thanks for being here," "This is so hard," and "My feet aren't working, let's walk," but not much else. I couldn't concentrate on anything except for how my ankles didn't want to move, how my knees felt like they were jutting out, and how much I wanted a piggy-back ride to the finish line. I knew I still had a long way ahead of me.

At mile 24, I was complaining and limping, and I passed one of the photographers on the course. I noticed he snapped my picture and my delirium subsided. "Did you just take a picture of me looking like sh*t?!" I demanded. The photographer took his ear buds out to hear me. "Will you retake my picture?" I asked him. "I don't want a photo of me suffering." "Sure, but you'll have to move back, over there."

Yes, ladies and gentleman, I ran backwards to get to where he could take a new picture of me not looking like death. I even heard one runner say, "Did she really just run backwards after running 24 miles?" Perhaps my delirium wasn't gone.

I tacked on a few more seconds, but hey, a better-looking picture is fun. :)

At mile 24.5, the blister I developed a few weeks ago exploded. It was painful, awkward, and something I was hoping I wouldn't have to deal with. I had taped it up that morning "just in case," but realized around mile 4 that it was giving me some problems. Perhaps the tape was aggravating it since it was mostly healed, and I should have just let it be. At the mile 24.5 explosion, I immediately fell into a gimp, then a slow walk, and then a flat stop at the side of the road. I felt the blister juice ooze inside my sock and I felt some loose skin hanging out underneath my toe. I guess the blister decided to take all of the skin that was under the duct tape with it. I re-adjusted my shoe tongues (thinking that was going to get my ankles to move, but also to buy some time to let the blister throbbing stop), and hobbled for a few feet before realizing I was going to have to limp the rest of the race in because I couldn't put much pressure on my left foot.

Sure, these were taken after the race, but just imagine running on this...

My coworker was quick to note my pain and splurted off, "It's all in your head. Just block that part out. You're in pain, but the finish line is right up there." (She inconveniently points to another gradual one-mile uphill.) I asked her to tell me some stories to get my mind off my foot and the hill ahead, asked her to run with me until 25.5 (instead of 25), and gimped around between her and her son. I really, really hurt during those miles, and I am so thankful they were there with me as I don't know how I would have talked myself through the hurting. Knowing I have some pretty cool friends is fun. :)

This may not be the most attractive picture of me out there, but cut me some slack. This was about 25 miles into my run and my form deteriorated. Here is my coworker's 12-year-old son telling me how he wants to run a marathon someday.
My coworker and her son dropped out as the crowd thickened near the finish line, and I sped up into a pace that was more acceptable to call "running" as I saw the the words FINISH down the shoot. As I neared the chip-timing mat, I heard "Go, Average A!!!" from my blog friend Julie and got so excited that I'd finally get to meet her! I just had to finish first. :)

I crossed the finish line with 5 friends, 2 parents, my Team Ortho training partner Pablo who had to drop to the half due to an injury, and Julie right there. I even raised my hands in excitement that I was finally done and could take my shoes off. That was really all I was thinking about.
Julie and I got to chatting after a round of hugs and pictures, and she's so sweet, positive, and encouraging! She even wanted to shake my hand after I spilled PowerAde all over myself right in front of her. I'm so relieved to hear that she didn't have a good race either. Wait, that came out wrong... :) The hills, sun, and humidity were brutal on this course, and it was by no means a "beginner marathoner's route," as Team Ortho was trying to tout it. Even a speed-demon like Julie didn't think she had a good race (don't worry everyone, she still kicked ass), but I knew she wasn't being modest based on some of her recent PRs.
The more people I talked to said they struggled during the run, and, even when thinking of all the weeks of practice I got on the course, I still had a hard time.

Overall, the race WAS fun, now that I can look back at it. I'm mildly sad that I went out too fast and that I bandaged up my toe when I didn't need it, but I'm happy with how everything turned out. The volunteer support was fantastic; Team Ortho rocks; I got awesome schwag, cool bling, and a free pint of beer for finishing; and the crowds were so supportive. Our names were printed on our bib numbers, and I loved hearing people say my name. I smiled and thanked everyone I could, and the crowd noticed that and kept telling me I was looking good. More than once I heard comments about how great it was to see someone smiling after so many miles. After seeing the pictures from the course, I'm surprised at how good I look compared to all the pain I was actually in.
Oooh, almost done with the series!

Other than successfully finishing my first marathon in a somewhat respectable first-timer's pace, the best part of today was -- by far -- being cheered for and seeing people I knew. I never did see Laura or watch her set her world record (although my friends and family took pictures so I could re-live her sweet victory!), but I have a whole new respect for what she has accomplished. She may not be the fastest marathoner, but the fact that she has basically run 51 races with little to no familiar faces at any of them shows me how huge her drive is. (And, well, that she ran that many races in basically the same amount of time it took me to get one under my belt. Jeeesh.)

Congrats on your world record, Laura!
At this point, I can't imagine running another marathon without knowing a few people there. I got so much family and friend-love this past weekend; it was just awesome. Having so many familiar faces around was my favorite part of the day. Running this marathon made me realize how important just a few words or phrases or a few smiling faces can mean when you're really hurting. It was even better getting that from people who know me so well.

Mom & Dad
Goofy Gramps
Old high-school friends
Photographer friends

Time: 4:24:36
Average Pace: 10:06
Overall Place: 584 of 1122
Gender Place: 194 of 482
Age/Gender Place: 48 of 112

26.5-mile splits (stupid tangents):
1: 9:27
2: 9:03
3: 8:42
4: 8:38
5: 8:28
6: 8:51
7: 8:50
8: 9:13
9: 8:50
10: 9:03
11: 8:54
12: 9:08
13: 9:38
14: 9:47
15: 9:50
16: 9:54
17: 10:08
18: 11:32
19: 10:36
20: 10:34
21: 10:39
22: 11:41
23: 11:05
24: 11:00
25: 12:15
26: 13:01
.5: 5:01
Air Temp: 67F at the start, 72F at the finish

2010 Team Ortho Minneapolis Marathon Recap from EideCom on Vimeo.