Race Day: Saturday, June 18, 2016 – 7:45am

I counted up the years and found that this was my eighth time in a row competing in a Grandma’s Marathon event. This is where it all began, and I love the race. I love the atmosphere in Duluth over the weekend, too, and look forward to it every single year. I signed up for the Garry Bjorkland Half Marathon 8 years ago, having never done a real running race, and the rest is history!

This year, I had very little by way of goals or aspirations for this race. Since April, my running volume had kind of tapered off, and I actually was focusing more on walking. It seems bizarre, and what really suffered here were long runs. If I’m backpacking every weekend, it makes it very difficult to get those few hours of running in. Eyes on the prize, though, and backpacking is first priority! Unfortunately, as I’d find out at Grandma’s Marathon, hiking doesn’t play in too well to marathon running. It’s probably better than watching TV, but definitely doesn’t translate exactly.

I was really looking forward to the weekend of Grandma’s, because 2016 was the first year in four that I wasn’t going to be working long hours at the race expo. After work on Friday, I’m off scott free! I got my packet on Thursday right as packet pickup opened, and was looking forward to have plenty of friends in town for the big weekend. I wanted to think of a race plan, and decided it might be a good idea just to take it easy and feel like I finished strong instead of the too-familiar slow crumble. I saw my friend Savannah at the expo and she was looking for a pacer for a sub 3:05 or even better: under 3 hours. That’s a respectable time for sure, but would be my slowest marathon of three, and this is coming off good 50 mile and 50k races just a few months prior. I wondered if it’d be possible to instead push hard and go for a marathon PR and pace for a 2:45 or so. If I built up for a fast marathon from April, it’d probably be no problem, but my training had shrunk since April and I had no workouts, longs runs, or races to use as a gauge to what I’m capable of. So I told Savannah we’d meet up at the start line and rock out some 7 minute miles.

Work was dreadfully slow on Friday, but it was great to get back for the weekend and see some friends. We had a pasta dinner potluck and everyone was in good spirits. I felt no pressure, but kept wondering if running slow would be a mistake. Why pass up the chance to have a great race? Then again, who cares? A 3:30 marathon would be fun and easy given my fitness! It is hard to even consider limiting one’s self in the context of a race. It’s hard enough when I’m trying to do a track workout!!

The weather was looking OK for race day. There was a chance for thunderstorms, which really can mean anything. Low winds, the temperature was bound to be higher than I’d like, but I didn’t think it’d be too extreme. As I went to sleep nice and early, I regretted promising to run quite a bit slower than PR pace with Savannah, but figured I’d stick with it and can always kick it up a notch at mile 15 for a sweet negative split.

I arose at 5:15am and saw house guest Carlie leisurely filling up her water bottle at the sink. Her and her husband Grant, as well as my roommate Matt, were all running the half marathon. I became a little confused with my morning sleepiness, but then quickly realized that they were probably running late. Matt came upstairs and I asked him if he was late or what. Nah, he said they have time. I told him the buses were shipping out of the University of Minnesota – Duluth, at 4:45-5:15am! They all three started scurrying around to get their things and got out the door at around 5:25 or so. How stressful! I can’t handle that on race morning! I wondered if they’d make it to the bus…

Meanwhile, my pre-race routine was right on point, and Kyle and Stacie picked me up just like last year. We made the buses with plenty of time to spare, hopped on, next stop Two Harbors. The weather was nice and the sun was out. It was shaping up to be a beautiful morning. The pre-race excitement on the school bus is always so fun. We got out and started walking towards the massive crowd near the starting corrals. The sun was already beating down, even at 7am. I dropped my clothes bag off and headed out to get in line for the porta-potties to complete the pre-race routine. I found Savannah almost immediately and we reviewed the pre-race plans. She said she doesn’t look at splits and told me not to yell them out. Fine! We’d just pace at a manageable speed, although I knew I wanted to hit 7 minute miles for the first five miles to start.

The hour before the race start was spent in porta-potty lines. I luckily got a big squirt of sunscreen and lathered it on my face and shoulders. It was going to be hot unless the clouds really come out in full force. With five minutes to spare, we ran towards the start line, got a nice comfortable spot near the 3:05 pace group. Without much ado, “ERRRRRRRRRRRR” and the start horn sounded. I promptly started my watch, but didn’t move my legs for 15 seconds until the crowd lurched forward. And we’re off.

It was nice to be up front and not have to run around all those people. My legs were feeling great, nice and refreshed, and I was excited to be on the way back to Duluth. Mile one was right on target. At around mile two, Savannah had to  make a bathroom stop. I was confused because we were at the porta-potties not 20 minutes prior! But if ya gotta go, ya gotta go. She said she’d catch up and I never saw her again. On my own! I vowed to keep a 7 minute pace until at least mile five. I got to mile five, saw my boss Dennis, and was right on track.

At this point, I didn’t know what strategy to take. I realized that 7 minute pace felt like a good marathon pace and I wasn’t too confident that I’d be able to go much faster anyways. I tried to ignore the pace and just run at a very easy effort. My new race plan was to kick it down at mile 18, do a few miles, then really give it all up at mile 20 when the real race begins. A marathon is a 10k with a 20 mile warm-up. Each split up to the half marathon mark was pretty well under 7 minutes. 6:33, 6:54, 6:39, and I was feeling good. The sun was definitely coming out, but I hadn’t yet resorted to dumping water on myself. My nutrition plan was right on point, gels on the hours, and I made a point to sip Powerade at every aid station.

I felt the fatigue set it at mile 15 or 16, near Brighton Beach. Luckily, it was a brief wave of tiredness that quickly passed. We bumped out from the Scenic Highway 61 to London Road and I was feeling good and in control once again. I realized I wouldn’t get close to my PR. I would be happy to beat 3 hours at this point, as my pace was feeling pretty automatic but would not be reasonable if I cranked it down at all. We’ll see at mile 20, I thought to myself.

I noticed the heat on London Road, and the sun was definitely coming out. I noticed it in my fellow competitors, as well, as more and more people were walking or hunched over, or spending a long time at aid stations grabbing ice and sponges and water. I was happy to feel like I was managing the heat well, however, and surprised the race was going without a hitch. No stomach issues, legs were feeling decent, really nothing to write home about!

Nearing the end of the Lakeside neighborhood, I felt a wave of fatigue once again. I battled it, and felt faster and better going by the Glensheen Mansion that I ever have in past years. I could see Lemon Drop Hill and was passing people. What a great feeling. I ran up Lemon Drop and knew it was all downhill from here. This is where it gets gritty. Sure enough, I realized I wouldn’t get a break from the pain and suffering of running a marathon despite my relatively conservative pace. Down London Road through the business district, the wheels fell off. It was a quick demise, and I really felt my pace slow down. It was a struggle to hold on, but I knew that this was the part of the race where you gather as much energy as possible from the crowd and from adrenaline and let ‘er rip. Also, I knew I’d get a boost from friends at Super One a mile down and the Duluth Running Co. a half mile past that.

I got passed a few times on the open and exposed London Road business district. I could feel my legs getting really heavy, the pace was slowing, slowing, and the pain. I missed the 3 hour cut and was looking at a Boston Marathon qualifier time 3:05 if I could hold it together. My tank top was pasted to my skin with the water and the sweat and I was taking every opportunity to dump water on myself. Super One was indeed a good boost of energy as I high-fived my friends. Then we turned up 12th Avenue East, the last tiny uphill, and it was the hardest part of the race. I had no energy and told my friend Kris it was really hard. It is once we get back up to Superior Street when the crowds come out. It seems like such a long couple miles to the finish whereas the early miles had just clicked off one by one a few hours prior. Duluth Running Co. was great energy and my pace sped up. Keep it up, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, I wilted very soon after. I was struggling to hang on to my 7 minute pace goal, and my watch was confirming the grim notion that I was running slow. There was a wide array of energy levels in my fellow runners as some people were passing me and others were stopped completely because of the heat and the exhaustion and the pain.

As we passed Fitger’s, I gritted my teeth. It was slow going into Downtown Duluth, and I tried to get a mantra in my head. I told myself it was easy, this was nothing compared to the 50k just a month ago. I had to run 10 miles in worse heat and with worse pain, and now I just have 2 miles left on the easy, flat roads. Easy! Lake Avenue is my favorite part of the course, and I tried to use some of the loud energy to my favor. I knew I’d be able to hold on at this point and just tried to push it as well as I could. My splits had still been decent since Lemon Drop Hill, but things really started going south once we turned onto 5th Avenue West for the final mile. It was rough. The sun was so hot and I was just toast. I could feel the weight of the day on certain painful muscle groups but tried to push it out of my mind. Under the bridge, around the hotel, and that finish line was great to see. I could finally let loose, and can always somehow find a little extra energy on the finish stretch on Canal Park Drive. I made it through the finish right in the meat of 3:04.

I kept running very slowly, a volunteer may have thought I was delirious as she told me I can stop running. I told her that I actually cannot stop because I’d cramp up! I saw Grant and Carlie immediately, extremely happy to see medals around their necks given the frantic morning start. It was nice to sit down, I saw some fellow Duluthian marathoners, dunked my legs in the Big Lake, and drank some chocolate milk.

All in all, the 2016 Grandma’s Marathon was great! It was fun to run a steady race and I felt great in the days after the race. It wasn’t my fastest race, in fact it was my slowest marathon out of three, but the entire weekend was so enjoyable and I was very pleased with my time regardless of what it could have been given a different race strategy. By mile 22 or so, I was giving it all I got anyways, so I’m led to believe that cranking down the pace earlier would have made for a more extreme implosion, especially with the heat! Not to many PR’s were set that day. And with that one done, there are no other races on the docket!

Results

Garmin Data

Race Stats:

Place: 195/7,525
Chip Time: 3:04:14
Pace: 7:02

Shoes: Mizuno Wave Rider size 11
Food: Strawberry Kiwi Honey Stinger Gel, Salted Caramel Gu

Race Day: Saturday, June 20, 2015 – 7:45am

Another Grandma’s weekend is in the books. This is where it all started and Grandma’s and the Gary Bjorkland Half Marathon hold a special place in my heart and my legs. This year, during my second road marathon, I shaved 9 minutes off of my time last year for 2:48. I trained for faster, I can run a road marathon faster, but a huge PR is a huge PR no matter what way you look at it, and I am happy with the results!

A few months ago, I wanted to prioritize my race schedule to get a better perspective on things. That’s the type-A triathlete shining through, I guess! Ironman Madison is first priority, of course, then Chisago half-iron, then Grandma’s, then Buffalo, then scattered smaller races and anything else I can jump into. With two triathlons in front of Grandma’s, I think I maybe skewed my training program a little more bike heavy than run heavy. In the months leading up to Grandma’s, I think I slowly tapered off of running compared to the volume I was putting in in March and April and did a little more biking and swimming. Also, I feel like I edged back from “frinjury” (my hybrid word for being on the fringe of injury), and wanted to feel healthy on the run over being that much more fit. Compared to my training partner Nick, either he got faster or I plateaued off a little bit. Trail racing in early May, anyways, I was a bit closer to him than the early June races. Plateau? Who knows. But looking at the logs, my long runs were spotty and weekly volume was slightly down. Also, I put an emphasis on early season tris… Grandma’s was the third weekend of racing in a row. Did that have any negative effect on my energy levels for a marathon? Hard to say.

I tried a different training plan after reading an article on the internet. Renato Canova trains his elite athletes by having them run real long and fast – “specific endurance”. I thought that this may be a fun, albeit perhaps a little risky, method of training, so I adopted a training program. Based off of last year’s training, I figured if I could do my daily hour jog, plus two hour long run every week, plus speed work in the form of NMTC Wednesday trail race series, then doing four “Canova workouts” would put me on track for a massive PR. Doing some estimation, I figured that I could run a 2:43 if I nailed four Canova workouts, spaced around a month apart, in increasing distances, all at 6:15 pace (race pace for a 2:43). In February, 12 miles at 6:15 pace. In March, 15 miles at 6:15 pace. In April, 18 miles, and in May, I’d do 21 miles at goal pace. Each workout went pretty well. Besides the very first 12 miler, which was right on pace and pretty much perfect, each Canova workout had some minor flubs (off pace slightly, had to poop, dropped out a half mile, bumped the 21 down to 20 miles). However, I recovered from each workout pretty well and felt good about my effort. I felt confident that each Canova workout was setting me up perfectly for a 2:43.

Grandma’s weekend is always hectic. Duluth Running Co. is always super busy, and in the past, it’s all hands on deck at the marathon expo, which we staff from 5-9pm plus all day setup on Thursday, then around 9am-10pm on Friday. Standing all day on the concrete floor is not the best pre-race ritual. It’s always very draining and stressful! This year, though, we put more into the store, and I was at the shop. The hours weren’t much different, but it was a little more laid back and I didn’t feel as drained by the end.

On race morning, I woke up and did the ritual. Mountain Dew, a little foam rolling, a bit of cereal and got everything together. The weather was looking dicey. Thunderstorms, swirling winds, and the occasional downpour was forecasted. It was cloudy as Kyle, Stacie, Nick and I left for the University of Minnesota-Duluth to take the bus out to Two Harbors.

We were joking around on the bus and everybody was ready to race. When we arrived, it was raining. I had a garbage bag on my body and a plastic bag on my head. After dropping my drop bag off, we all stood in line for the bathrooms for a long time. It got very nerve-wracking when with 5 minutes until race time, we were still in line. With about 2 minutes until 7:45, I got my chance and did my business as hastily as possible. Then, I hopped a snow fence and ran in the ditch to get near the front. I started the race in between the 3:15 and 3:05 pace groups… not ideal, but Nick preaches to go slow the first two miles. I wanted to hit 6:15 every single mile.

Weaving through people, I hit my first mile at 6:51. Ok, time to crank it up, I thought. Luckily, while making my way through the crowds, I hit miles 2 and 3 at 6:15 on the nose for each one. Just hold that pace and I’ll be in the cut! Clicking off miles, I was pretty much on track at the 10k mark. My pace was around 6:18 on average, so I went under goal pace for a few and almost equalized the slow first mile. Also, I was feeling good and fresh and had good form. I remember thinking that it was good that I got that 10k done first, and now it’s just 20 more miles to go.

I think it was mile 9 that was a little slow. I don’t know why, but I came in a bit behind after clicking off some great miles up the shore. Onto mile 10, I felt a fart coming on and knew that I could definitely poop. My worst fear, as I had some pooping issues on a lot of long runs and a few of my Canova workouts even. Maybe that’s a diet thing… Either way, I saw a toilet ahead and decided that I could probably poop fast at this point and that if it was empty, I’d go for it. It was, and I did. It was a quick poop, but resulted in a second slower mile in a row. I think I set my poop PR, too, with a sub 60 second dumper.

At mile 10, I calculated that I needed to be at 1:02:30 or so. My watch read 1:04:04 as I split it. I can make it up, though, I thought. All it takes is a few 6:10 minute miles and I’ll be back on track… plenty of real estate. Going into the half, I was over two minutes off.

After the half mark, I got into a nice groove and started to really micromanage the race. Once I get into Lakeside past Brighton Beach, that’s when the race really gets good, I thought. I was clicking off some good fast miles and next thing I know I can see the merger onto London Road. At this point, perhaps mile 18 or 19, I was feeling a little bit sore. Things were starting to crop up, but I felt strong regardless. I know my calves were getting yoked, but my feet were feeling OK and my big muscles like hamstrings a quads were firing off just fine. After I passed Lester River, I started feeling pretty run down. The mental game was kicking in despite a lot more screaming fans. I had to really focus on getting to mile 20, because I knew Angela and a few friends were there watching. After passing 57th Avenue, there was no mile marker. It must be 47th Avenue, I thought. So I was counting the blocks as they went by. 10 blocks later, and I heard a cheering squad and saw the 20th mile marker. It was a huge boost seeing them, but I didn’t know what to do, so I flashed a quick smile and kept running.

IMG_2294Photo credit: Angela Gilbertson

IMG_2295 Photo credit: Angela Gilbertson

Lakeside, and specifically running past Lakeshore old folks home and Glensheen, has historically been where I start really feeling bad and falling apart. Lakeshore went by with no problems, and then it’s a long straightaway where you can see Lemondrop hill looming in the distance. I was starting to get really tight at this point. Running was becoming labored and I could feel my form deteriorate. Glensheen went by with no problem, but I could feel my pace slip a bit as people passed me. I went slow up Lemondrop, but recovered somewhat quickly and knew that it was all downhill to the finish. Time to wrap it up!

Duluth Running Co. is the best boost because there is always a booming crowd cheering my actual name. That helps. Running down London Road, my mental state was not good. I wasn’t pushing at all and my pace was slipping for sure. I could feel it, too, but didn’t feel like pushing. I scooted up the avenue to Superior Street and ran towards Duluth Running Co. with nice form. You get that hair-stands-on-the-back-of-your-neck feel with the screams and the yells, and that helped for sure. Bring it home, bring it home. My legs hurt. My left one was seizing up, I thought the IT band would flare up, it didn’t really, but I could feel everything being strained to the max.

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My right side felt OK, but definitely hurt! I was taking Powerade at every station because I thought I’d cramp up. At Fitgers, mile 24 I believe, I took a little too much Powerade and it sloshed down my throat into my stomach. I could feel it jostling around with my three gels and I got the feeling of throwing up. If I burped, I’d yak. I slowed my pace to avoid embarrassingly throwing up on Superior Street. All of Superior Street was pure pain. I wasn’t even running that hard, but just felt like if I pushed it, I’d probably yak. The feeling subsided at mile 25 as we turned onto 5th Avenue West. I burped and it felt good. So I jetted around some people and ran hard down the avenue and over the bridge.

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Just bring it home… I looked at my watch and was feeling pretty good about the time, but I never realize how long it takes from the Aquarium. The wind seemed howling right when you turn by the Bay, but it wasn’t bad. I tried to push it and keep my stride nice and strong, but I definitely wasn’t running too fast.

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I brought it home on the home stretch… thought I heard my name a few times but kept my eyes focused on the finish line.

IMG_2291Photo credit: Halie Higgins

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Right when I finished, I did my celebration thing and did a few weird jog strides and kept walking. 2:48:15 was the final chip time.

One year of training yielded a marathon time nine minutes faster, which is awesome. I was less than 5 minutes off of my goal time… around 11 second per mile. The race went pretty much as good as it could have. I don’t think I left much out on the course. A few seconds per mile here and there and maybe I’d be walking down Superior Street. Hard to know. All I’m thinking about now is what sort of a training block should I construct to have the fastest half-ironman time I possibly can. I’ll do Grandma’s Marathon once again next year if I can help it. I think I can run under 2:40.

Results

Watch splits:

1- 6:51
2- 6:15
3- 6:15
4- 6:17
5- 6:09
6- 6:11
7- 6:39
8- 5:52
9- 6:37
10- 6:52
11- 6:20
12- 6:11
13-
14- 12:53
15- 6:08
16- 6:16
17- 6:20
18- 6:30
19- 5:59
20- 6:22
21- 6:31
22- 6:28
23- 6:39
24- 6:39
25- 6:48
26- 8:02

Race Stats:

Place: 167/6075
Time: 2:48:15
Pace: 6:26

 

Shoes: Saucony Kinvara 5 size 11.5

Food: Honey Stinger Strawberry Kiwi (Mile 7), Gu Roctane Blueberry Pom (Mile 14 or 15), Hammer Gel Tropical (Mile 22 or 23??)


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