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


  1. You did awesome A! God, I still can't believe that you ran basically two marathons back to back! You are amazing:) The pictures of you look so good...I look terrible in mine:( I really enjoyed reading your race report and love all of the pictures! I still can't believe that we were able to run into each other...so glad that we did! I can't wait to see you at Red White and Boom!

  2. Fantastic race report. :) I am so freakin' impressed by your accomplishment! You give me hope that I'll be able to muddle through my first one in December!

    I think a blog name change is in order. Nothing "average runner" about this! Maybe "Just Your Average Maniac"? haha

  3. Super report and lovely photos! You did incredibly well, congratulations! Two in two weeks is tough, but you did it and will wear your Maniac singlet with pride. I like that "Average Maniac" idea…

  4. Awesome job - you did great! Not sure about the name change though - Average M might not have the same ring as Average A. Now enjoy your rest - you Maniac!

  5. Ahahaha... you sent an email during mile 20! Hilarious.

    Awesome job! Those splits are really good... I have absolutely no idea what my pace will be but I'm thinking I won't do better than 10-11 min/mile and that's if everything goes near-perfectly. And you nearly stayed sub-10 for almost 14 miles, when you weren't even focusing on pace!

    Totally coming to you for marathon advice once my race is nearer ;)

  6. Sweet! It sounds like you had a great race and you should be darn proud that you are a maniac : )

  7. Fantastic!!! Love the race report and congrats on your maniacal status! I had to laugh at your mile 20 split - I, too, send text messages on the race course, so sue me! :-)

  8. Woohoo! Congrats! Amazing accomplishment, and so inspiring!

  9. Way way way way way way to cool. Amazing job, look at those pictures I mean seriously? Great report Girly!

  10. We are looking for people to Join the 15th Annual Team Spirit Long Beach 5k and 10K marathon and help put an end to breast and ovarian cancer today!. You can help distribute brochures and yard signs to local stores, offices, and restaurants! Are you a people person? We have many community events where Team Spirit needs a presence. Volunteer to work a table at one of these events to hand out brochures and spread information about Team Spirit, and recruit participants! Already attending the marathon? Then help volunteer the day of the event. We need groups to assist with set up, participant check-in, new registrations, and drive or co-pilot shuttle vans. We will also need people to man water stations, and course monitors to assure participants’ safety and morale.