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.


  1. Wow, you totally rock! My training buddy Megan was at this race, running with a friend of hers from college, and she finished just 3 minutes after you. Maybe you guys even saw each other! Wish I'd known you sooner--maybe you could've linked up with them for some company.

    The running back for the photo thing made me laugh out loud... that's SO something I would do. And you are an absolute HERO for running on that toe. Omg. Amazing job! long should I wait before asking you whether you're ever going to do this again? haha.

  2. Also, what did you have written on your hands? I think I want to steal that idea for mine.

  3. Great report and great job finishing your first marathon!

  4. Great job finishing!!! I cringed for you when I saw that picture of your blister. Way to push through the pain!!! I'd have been curled up in the fetal position in a gutter somewhere.

  5. Sorry about the blister but you did fantastic - Congratulations! And running with Steve in a Speedo is an awesome bonus, especially when you get a photo with him. Great job - rest up and get that skin healed.

  6. Congratulations on a terrific race!! What a fantastic race report, I laughed, I cried... and there was Steve in a Speedo! There's no better experience than your first marathon, revel in the pain and the amazing accomplishment. Well done! (And I am SO going back for a better photo in my next race!!)

  7. Hi A,
    I really enjoyed reading your race report:) I want you to know that I think that you did awesome....seriously, for a first marathon you rocked it! The day did really sucked in terms of heat and humidity....just think what your next one will be like without the crappy elements:) I didn't know that you met Steve that day! I met him at the St. Paul Securian Half. He is so nice and super funny. That man always has a smile on his face:)

    You have some really great pictures too! I hope that when I run my first half I will have as many family and friends there for moral support:)

    You did it! You are a marathoner! Congrats to you:)

    Are you thinking about doing the TC Marathon in October? That would be awesome if you would! I am so glad that I had the chance to meet you and hopefully we will see each other at more Team Ortho runs:)

    Take care!

  8. Dear Average A-
    like way...
    You did it! I look forward to completing my first full this October! I am already telling my husband how he needs to meet me in a couple spots, just like he did for my first 1/2 :)

    You wrote a wonderful recap, it litteraly mad my heart race a lil!

    Oh, P.S. I am not a vegan, but I am a vegetarian, a pretty picky one at that.. Do you have a Whole Foods anywhere near by? They carry these cookies, or you can get em' online, you totally deserve a sweet treat!!!

    You can enter on my post here:

    I totally look forward to following your blog :)

  9. I can't believe you ran backward for a better photo!! That's great!! I'm glad you spotted me and said hi!! Congrats on a GREAT first marathon!!