28 Jul 2019
Race Date: Saturday, June 22, 2019 – 7:45am
At the start line, lined up next to my friends Ian and Kyle way up front, I said “let’s get that three hour boys”. Then the moment where you know the start is imminent, then air horns through the microphone and the huge mass lurches forward. Nobody was getting any three hours that day.
My final race in an insane season was supposed to be the 2019 Grandma’s Marathon, which has been my first race of the season in years past. Maybe not very first but definitely first “big” race. In 2019, a sub-3 Grandma’s Marathon was supposed to be the cap on an aggressive, triumphant series of running pursuits. What it ended up being was a slog. A fun, healthy, death march. Using the description “fun” is maybe a stretch. It was fun in hindsight.
The first race in my planned 2019 racing season, Antelope Canyon 55k, more or less went off without a hitch. My training into race season was a little spotty thanks to some plantar fascia pain, a little bit of hamstring pain, and perhaps a mental shortcoming. I couldn’t shake some post-Antelope sore spots before Zumbro 100 Mile, but it was canceled anyhow. That is where the mental aspect comes in to play… A thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail was next. I couldn’t pull the trigger. I weaseled out of Last Runner standing and that left Grandma’s Marathon. It was part injury, part work, actually. We (Duluth Timing and Events) had two race timing gigs that I did not want to be absent for. And of course, there is a mental aspect involved. I got to volunteer and hang out at Last Runner Standing so that was good. But the SHT miss is a whole other conversation. Back to Grandma’s.
My plantar fascia band was finicky in the weeks and days leading up to Grandma’s. I was actually right on track with a speedy 16 miler at 3 hour goal pace, or just a bit slower. Through 8 miles of the training run on June 1, I felt good and was holding a 7-minute pace relatively comfortably. I felt smooth. I did feel a strange twinge of foot pain a bit before the turnaround. At the turnaround 8 miles in, I stopped to drink some water and that was not good. My foot got a second to stop the pounding and it realized something was wrong. I told it that no, there was nothing wrong and kept running. Each step was painful. I stopped again, just out of sight from the makeshift aid station, to soak my feet in the cold Lake Superior water, hoping that would somehow reset my sore underfoot tissue. It was strikingly cold, but no relief. I made it through the run but it set me back. The pain the next day was intense. I started my taper promptly from there.
I rode the bus to the start line with my brother Andrew. I knew I had poor training in the previous 20 days after that touchy 16-mile long run. I was scared about another setback with my foot over the course of a daunting 26 miler. This season was already shot! Who cares? I figured I could roll a 3:20 pretty well. But what about going for it? Why not try to salvage my botched running season and go sub-3 hours? I was excited for my brother Andrew because his training had gone really well and I could tell he was feeling fit and healthy. I envied that feeling of having no issues.
It was shaping up to be a perfect day. When I walked out from the busses with my brother, my running pals Kyle and Ian, who had moved from Duluth to Bozeman, MT a couple months prior, walked up right behind us. We chatted for a little bit, and they confirmed my notion that they were going to try and pace off of each other to get under 3 hours and qualify for Boston Marathon. Ooo, that got me excited. I started towards the bathroom and took care of business. I eventually lost everyone and was alone, soaking in the sunlight in my tank top jersey after dropping my drop bag off. There was a light tailwind, sunshine, cooler temps… ideal. I bummed around waiting for the race to start, and was excited to get going as people starting flooding towards the start line. I lined up a bit behind the start… well back as not to get caught up with the yahoos running fast. Not today.
I had my spot and knew there was probably just 5 or 10 minutes before the race start. I looked curiously around for Kyle and Ian. Or Andrew. Anyone? I maybe saw a few familiar faces but didn’t really want to talk. I just wanted to go for a nice jog. All the sudden, Kyle and Ian brush by about two people over from me, flowing intently to the start line. I slipped in between two people and got right behind them. I thought it’d be funny if I was just right behind them all the sudden. Here I am, guys! One of them noticed I was tailing them. I yelled, “let’s get that three hour boys!” and therefore announced my intent to run with them.
The race started and we were rollin’. It was a huge pack right away with 9,000 people running, and we weaved in and out of hoards of people but stuck together through the first mile. Well under 7 minutes. The second mile, 3, 4, 5 all clicked by and we ran together, Ian heckling other runners and Kyle focused on getting his long term goal of a Boston qualifying marathon finish time. We averaged 6:50 or so through the first 5k by my estimate. We were rolling, and I said it aloud. I could tell Kyle was feeling the pace and I was too. Ian was happy go lucky, and not even aware that we were probably a bit under 3-hour pace. I peeled off to take a pee right under the train bridge past Knife River. It was a strategic move to leave Kyle and Ian and run my own race. I felt a little fatigued already. That’s not right. I kept running after a quick stop but considered that I could go more by feel. So I kept it up, still cognizant of the 7 minute pace I was excited to maintain. It still felt smooth. The solo miles clicked by up to the half way point, but I could tell that I was slowing down a bit. It just became a little more difficult to make 7 minute pace feel comfortable. Oh well, I was OK with it and just slowed down. The first half clock read 1:33 or so. On track for a nice finish but I was certainly starting to feel a little more tired than I should have been.
My foot was feeling really good, perhaps because of the taped foot, compression ankle sleeve and compression socks. Then seemingly out of nowhere, my calf started to bug me. I think it was my left one, my problem one. I stopped running and tried to massage it out. Then my knee started to hurt. It was a sharp pain. I thought I’d felt that pain before and diagnosed it as IT band or tight outer quad or something. So I stopped to try to massage that out by deeply pressing my palm into the outside of my thigh.
The miles kept clicking off, and it seemed to be a constant grind as the north shore sections moved to the London Road sections and Glensheen Mansion approached. That spot of the race has, for some reason, always been a very difficult part of the race for me. This time around, I wasn’t in any better shape, but my mind was taking the pain well. It was a slow grind. I was walking through every aid station, and was dumping water on my head from miles before the half, despite volunteers wearing long sleeves and spectators wearing hoodies and jackets.
I pushed up Lemondrop Hill and prepared myself for spectators I perhaps knew. They can’t know I’m running so slow, I thought. Ugh, I am in bad shape! My knee was really bugging me and the compression socks were beginning to be an irritant. I blamed them for my pain. My pace had slowed dramatically, even without the walk stops. I was just jogging, who cares… I felt like an idiot for going out so hard. I’d passed Kyle, no sight of Ian, and wondered if my brother Andrew would be way ahead of his projections and zoom by me. I heard a spectator yell “HOT DOG!!!” and saw a girl run by in a hot dog costume. I figured it’d be smart to try and stick with her to leech off the crowd excitement behind the costume. I couldn’t hang, just kept slogging along. I saw some people I knew and tried to keep my form looking OK despite feeling like crap and a slow pace. I couldn’t look at my watch anymore, the pace field was just disappointing.
After eating fruit near Super One Foods and turning up to get to Superior Street, I seemed to catch the crowd adrenaline a bit and my pains weren’t so bad. The last miles seemed to click by as well and next thing I knew I was past Fitger’s, onto the modified course on Michigan Street, and to the home stretch on Harbor Drive. I wanted to kick it in at this point, but still couldn’t push. Crap. I suppose I had 25 miles in my legs…. My knee wasn’t working great, but the rest of my body was actually pretty solid. My foot wasn’t bugging me at all, and that was the important part. I wanted to pass those around me, but it didn’t really work like that. I tried to jack people up around me, including a lady who had slingshotted with me all race, seemingly, with her walk/run strategy. She was even walking with less than a half mile to go! Just run it in lady! But I couldn’t hark on her style because she was hanging right with me! My time was definitely going to be slower than my pre-planned 3:20, way off a sub-three hour finish, way way off my personal record, and a massive positive split.
I ran through the finish chute, heard my name from the announcer, and yells from the bleachers where my parents and Emily were standing and jumping around. I came right through the finish and kept walking. No collapsing, no overdramatic heaving, just a smooth walk, race was over. It was a standard finish to the race that capped off a failure of a running season. Then again, I had never planned anything as aggressive and demanding than what I laid out for myself for 2019. I just finished a marathon dammit! I am grateful, happy, and lucky to be able to run, which is a very deep passion for me. In actuality, all of my goals were completed to the fullest: to finish with no worse injuries, and to have fun. It maybe wasn’t fun during the race… well, yep it was fun. It was fun! It was. It really was fun.
29 Jun 2019
Race Date: Saturday, June 15, 2019 – 8:30am
Inline skating is a fun way to race. I was super excited to race a marathon, 26.2 miles, on skates, and had a pretty laid-back attitude towards Apostle Islands Inline Marathon up to race week. I actually got some good training in, felt pretty confident that I could hang and be in the mix, and didn’t feel like I had anything to lose.
On race week, I started getting a little nervous. Jeesh, what about the pace line? They’re going fast, I don’t want to fall. I had Grandma’s Marathon looming just 7 days after… back to back marathons… and a nagging plantar facia band aggravated by running and so felt about equally lackadaisical about all my upcoming races. But I still wanted to compete. But who am I with the big dogs? Why did I sign up for the Elite division? The doubts started creeping in.
Girlfriend Emily and I drove to Washburn, WI on Wisconsin’s beautiful south shore of Lake Superior to meet my sister Emily and dad at his campsite with trailer parked. We stayed there overnight, then took the van across the ferry in the morning to race and spend the day on Madeline Island, where the race course was located. It was three loops around half of the island for me in the marathon, two loops for Emily and Emily. Girlfriend Emily seemed a little doubtful of her abilities but I was excited to see her surprise herself.
The day was very cold, but with beautiful sunshine. It didn’t seem possible, how the sun was beaming down, the greenery in full bloom, just a perfect day but in the 40s. In mid-June? Weird. Oh well, it made for good racing conditions, I figured. I warmed up a bit, not wanting to schmooze with anybody or talk to anybody. I was excited to just get out there and rip. I took a spin for maybe 10 minutes, then shook out the jitters and caught up with my crew. Everyone seemed ready to go! My race went off first and so with a couple minutes to spare I made my way into the start area and conglomerated with the rest of my wave. It wasn’t the biggest wave in the world, maybe about 20 of us. I looked and felt a little out of place. I was definitely the only one in high boots. There were a lot of team speedsuits and custom molded boots. Then, “READY GO”! And we were off.
At St. Paul half marathon last year, a big pack was gone right away and so I scraped my way up, passing people the whole race. I vowed I would not let that happen at Madeline and go out hot, all-in to get with the lead pack. The start was a little frenetic and I just tried to skate fast without hitting anyone beside me. I looked around trying to figure out what was going to happen, and no line formed right away. A couple hundred feet into the race was a right-hand turn. I took the turn and found my way toward the back of all the skaters at this point. Cripes, push Mike push! And just like that, the lead pack was already gone. Gah. Luckily there were several groups of guys all around me and I just pushed as hard as I could not worrying about the pack. A secondary pace line kind of formed up, but I zinged ahead of them, vowing to go out hot and see where that got me. I think the make-or-break moment of the race was at this point, one mile or so in, when a group formed with just two other guys. We were a tight and efficient pace line and I felt like a real racer. One of the guys, name Travis, was commanding our group, and it was well received by me for sure. He was yelling out “switch” and we’d change positions and give the front guy a little break. He was shouting little mantras like “keep it controlled” and stuff, and I can definitely get down with the mantras. It jacked me up.
All the sudden, about halfway through the first lap, I notice another group coming behind us. Must be the masters guys, I thought. It was a big pack. Real big. I wondered if my two other new friends would jump on with me, but I was going for it. We moved over a bit, and at the very end of the line, I jumped in to place. The pack took off, and boy it was a lot of guys. I was on the end of it. I would guess there were 50 skaters in one single pace line and we were moving!
I noticed that it was pretty easy to keep pace, although there was some accordion action going on where the group would clump up and then stretch out. I wasn’t too good at keeping up with those stretch moments. I didn’t seem to have great power and couldn’t respond as quick as the guys in front of me seemed to respond. I also was not good on the corners, and there were several on this course. Each time a corner was approaching it was a little nerve-wracking, and I seemed to take it much slower than those around me. So my strategy of not sticking out was maybe not going so well. In no time, we went thought the start line and started on lap two.
Right after that first turn, the field kind of clumped up and spread out. I wondered what was going on. I got pushed off to the side somehow, then the line formed seemingly without me. Well, the guys up front don’t know I’m back here, gah, how did I get edged out?? A guy let me back in. It happened again, and was a little dicey on lap two with other slower skaters to one side and traffic on the other side. I shook my head and just went ahead, blasting past the whole pace line with no agenda. I just pushed hard for a while up a hill, hoping maybe some guys would chase and get in another group. I don’t know what I was thinking and nobody went with me at all. Definitely sticking out…
It took a minute or two before the massive group swallowed me up again. I tried to latch on the back and almost lost the whole group! I pushed as hard as I possibly could to get in behind the group, and it was a very close call indeed as I narrowly avoided losing the whole group around a corner. I just held my place on the very back of the pace line from here. In no time, we were back to the start line and started lap three.
I found myself struggling around that first turn and up a bit of on incline. I started chatting with people and asked if the group would go now that it was the final lap. I didn’t get a super specific answer. Another guy recognized me from before, perhaps by my lap two antics, and yelled “ohhh! Ole Fall Behind!”. I don’t know if I liked the nickname, but hey, it was fitting. My legs started feeling a little shaky, and I found myself at the very back once again, and struggling more and more to keep with the pack as they accordioned ahead and I fought hard to stay in the mix.
It was halfway through the final lap when I struck my last match and noticed as the pack crept just out of reach. Next thing I know, it was a stones throw, then a ways out, then totally unreachable. With a turn just ahead, I saw my time in the big pace line slip away. The pack steamed around the corner and I didn’t see them again. Oh well, I sighed to myself, almost in relief. I just put my head down and cranked away. My legs were feeling OK, but a few sore spots were definitely forming. My back was getting irritated, but I felt locked in to the aero, crouched over stance.
I passed other skaters, who knows what loop or race, until I saw another skater ahead who was dropped by the pack. I could just tell, and noticed that he was in the hurt tank. I would pass this guy. When I got closer, I recognized him as a dude in my category. Boom! This is exactly what I need to finish the race strong, I thought. I planned it all out: I would first pass him, then put on a bit of time for safety’s sake, then finish right ahead of him and see where that gets me in the Elite 30-39 category. I felt excited that I would get to compete with at least one person into the home stretch, and even better if it’s someone in my age group.
My pass went smooth, and I made sure I looked smooth and pushed hard afterwards. My legs just didn’t have the oomph I wanted, but I was moving for sure. I sensed he was on my back though. Of course, why would he let me go? I definitely noticed he was struggling, but I wasn’t far off. I hammered in to the finish, and knew he was right there. Then there is the final right hand turn, and a few hundred feet to the finish. I just didn’t have a good feeling… I knew I was sucking at the corners and almost sniffed the defeat.
I hit the corner and did not feel comfortable to push, let alone pull a crossover move. Onto the straight, and I just knew the guy was right there. I had no power. I let it all out there, my form went out the window, which was probably not helping my cause to beat this guy.
He just strolled right along side of me and into the finish chute. I actually yelled “NOOO” as he passed on my right, probably fueling his final push. And then there’s the line, done. What a terrible finish! I was actually pretty elated, though, to have stuck with the pack and finished with a really good time, and the excitement of the last second push. It was kind of funny, and good for this guy. He had a jersey on, low cut boots, probably deserved to beat me. Then again, it was a really sour feeling to get edged out by literally one second.
The course was great, and I was super satisfied with the event as a whole. It was really fun and felt great to have a skate marathon under my belt.
Skates: Rollerblade Endurace 125
Food: Two gels
07 Jan 2019
Race day: Saturday, January 5, 2019-9:30am
I was so excited to race, it was the best feeling to jump off the start line and be with the big pack of runners. The first minute was by far the easiest part of the day. Leading up to the Northwoods Winter Trail Marathon, training had been pretty much on point except two weekends prior where I did not accomplish the every-four-weeks “long trip” of 55 miles that was scheduled. The conditions in and around Jay Cooke State Park were icy that day. I started falling behind my pace and pulled the plug with 14 miles and 4 hours logged in the woods. But the training program went on, and the frustration of failure turned into the excitement to compete!
With recent heavy snow in Duluth, and kind of weird winter conditions up to January, it was really a crapshoot how the trails would allow fast running. I know that sometimes, running on those fat bike trails on packed snow is real nice and real fast! There were two rounds of snow within the race week, the first being really wet and heavy and the second being pretty powdery. It got warm later in the week and race day was in the mid- to upper-30’s. I was contemplating what to wear and decided a long sleeve and my mikeward.cool jersey would work. I had four screws in each shoe and ready to rock.
I was carrying my handheld water bottle with a couple of gels and would make an exchange at the half-way loop. I lined up directly under the arch and the countdown began, then GO! And the crowd ran off. I got to the front very quickly and up onto the snowmobile trail at Lester Park, headed down towards the lake. The first mile was pretty good running on that snowmobile trail, and I noticed a sub-8 minute mile right away. Hmm! Probably should slow down, I thought.
Some of the half guys went out in front, and who I believed was Wynn Davis according to Eric’s pre-race chatter, stuck right behind me. He barely edged me out and took the lead for the marathon until missing a turn that was literally off into the woods–no preexisting trail. I noticed the pink paint on the snow and hollered out, then I was in the lead. We popped right onto bike trails and I lead us on a long stretch, all the way to the top of Lester.
Wynn and I started chatting and the miles started clicking off. He told me he was indeed Wynn. It was a grind up the Lester River but I kept the legs churning. The trail was a little soft. Not too bad and we were making decent time. After a climb of several miles, we jutted out to an intersection atop Seven Bridges Road at Skyline Boulevard, and ran back onto snowmobile trails. It was not long before he went around me. I stopped for a pee break and let Wynn run away. Boy, he took off! He was out of sight in no time.
I was already feeling a bit fatigued from the snowy conditions and probably going a bit too hard on the climb. Hey, I hadn’t walked yet! I was getting into a rhythm on the snomo trail but it did feel slow and I was looking forward to the aid station. The aid station stop was real quick as I grabbed a pancake and some chips and jetted off. I was right on time for my goal of 4 hours, so sprinted up the hill out of the aid station, finally on the solid ground of a paved dirt road for once.
It was so demoralizing to get back onto the bike trail. The planks of the bridge were uneven and just so clumsy. The trail didn’t get less demoralizing from there, with the slippy and slidey and steep section to the backside of Hawk Ridge across Skyline. There, the views were sweet, sweeping across the deep grey Lake Superior. I wondered if I was going to see Wynn at all. I was moving good through Hawk Ridge. I didn’t see anyone.
The way down Amity Creek took forever because you could see the start and finish area from high above the ridge and you run so far to finally get back there. A quick check of my watch and I was happy to see that I would certainly make a 2:00 split at the half point. I had eaten my gels, was right on track with water and feeling pretty good stomach-wise and general energy-wise. I could feel the fatigue and was noticing a few specific muscles getting worked hard with all the sliding around and lateral movement. My hamstrings seemed worked as well as my right hip flexor. My ankles were starting to get mad from all the sideways motion.
The half-way point was wonderful, just to have that mental checkpoint, but I did not spend much time and was back across the start/finish line after switching my gel wrappers for fresh ones and trying to eat as much Twix bar as I could in 15 seconds. I saw some half finishers and a couple behind me coming in. No other full marathoners in sight. My watch was at around 1:55 and just bit above 12 miles. Right away, getting back to the early snowmobile miles, I felt so flat. It was like I left my energy stores at the finish line. No! I didn’t do the half marathon! I had to remind my body of that. Or maybe it was because the trail was chewed up. Was I just fresh and springy the first time around? Or did the hundred or so people behind me scramble the not-quite packed snow up? But once I got to the very bottom of Lester and headed back on the long climb, it was really tough going.
The snow was so slippery and no footstrike was solid. Each step was a strain on my ankle ligaments, twisting every time to try and get traction. It seemed so much steeper than the first time. I was swearing, yelling, grunting. I wanted to give up but that is way more frustrating so I just kept the ole leggies churning. I said a mantra to myself: “I like the pain”. It worked! But only temporarily. At Amity Creek trail and Skyline, I didn’t get much reprieve from the sliding snow on the snowmobile trail, but seemed to get in a flow. I was certain it was all uphill, though. Ugh. As I got closer to the aid station, I figured I was 20 minutes down on my second loop compared to the first. I took a little longer at the food table the second time around, filled up my nearly empty water, and took two mouthfuls of food. On the brief road section, I did NOT feel fast, which assured that my tired state was not just attributable to the loose loop-two footing.
By the time I got to Hawk Ridge and crossed Skyline, it was a relief nearly of the magnitude of the race being over. Relief that the worst was behind me and just five gritty miles to go. I was way off my goal of four hours, figured that Wynn was way ahead or finished already or something, and hoping that nobody would come up behind me. I could never know so wasn’t really even concerned. Plus too tired to be concerned.
Atop Hawk Ridge, on the mountain bike trail below the bird observation area and overlook, I passed a snowshoer with trekking poles. He was in for a long day at that point! At a switchback, I noticed him running down the hill above me, and like a flash, another runner behind him. I stretched my neck to catch a glimpse at his bib color, but quickly diverted my eyes back to the ground as I slid around in every direction. Gahhhhh. The slow going was almost comical, and I used that humor to keep my morale up as I got passed. The guy was quick and did not waste time running out of sight. I wondered how many more times I’d be passed, and so tried to push on the downhills below Hawk Ridge and on the lower Amity Creek trails. It seemed like my dead legs and sore ligaments were just blindly succumbing to the overwhelming signals from my brain telling them to keep churning, my brain fueled by the feeling of going fast on the downhill Amity section. Unfortunately, my watch said differently and I was going slow, struggling to get above 11 minutes per mile.
I saw a few more glimpses of the person who passed me, passed a few slower, presumably half marathon people, and then saw the same people a few minutes later. Jeez, those trails twist and turn on themselves all over the place. I crossed over Seven Bridges Road and trudged the final mile. What a relief to finish! I instantly realized that it was fun and not really terrible, and soon after also realized that I got second place, the guy in front of me won, and Wynn took a wrong turn, cut a big section of course and was DQ’ed. That is unfortunate. The final realization was that the now winner was Jon Balabuck from Thunder Bay, a guy I thought I’d raced several times in the past at triathlon races.
I came in just under 4:20, and was totally beat afterwards. I was awarded a mason jar full of peanut M&M’s and joked that I won my lunch.
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia size 11.5
Food: 3 gels, a couple shot blocks, a Twix bar, and some chips, one small pancake
21 Jun 2016
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!
Chip Time: 3:04:14
Shoes: Mizuno Wave Rider size 11
Food: Strawberry Kiwi Honey Stinger Gel, Salted Caramel Gu
22 Jun 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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??)
21 Jun 2014
Race Day: Saturday, June 21, 2014 – 7:45am
Grandma’s Marathon… what a race! This was the sixth year in a row I had raced on this day, but my first marathon. The Garry Bjorkland Half Marathon is really where this all started, and it was only a matter of time before I jumped into a 26.2 mile race. Why I registered in the first place, I don’t really know, but it was definitely well in advance. That means a I had a long winter and spring to train.
Training for a marathon is definitely different than anything, even long course triathlon. The sheer volume and consistency of running was made possible in large part to Diamond, my running partner. As if having a terrible race isn’t the worst prospect in the world, shrill barking in my ear is literally the best motivator to run in sub zero weather.
Anyways, the weather looked good all week and training leading up to the race was spot on. I felt confident going into the race and wanted to nail a 6:45 minute mile every single mile. The only mystery is how my body would react to working at the race expo from 5-9pm on Thursday night and then 9-9 on Friday. In the past, working the long days and trying to race 13.1 has been really tough, so I was pretty nervous how the ol’ bod would hold up to a much longer and more strenuous race.
I enjoy racing in cool weather, and definitely don’t mind a little mist! The race day brought 50s and foggy, light rain and mist. The pre-race nerves were there, but I felt like I had a really solid race plan and felt confident. This section will be brief, because as I write this, it is October and I don’t exactly remember how I felt during the race…. Note to self: do race recaps as soon as possible.
I began the race right on schedule. Every mile was a few seconds within my goal pace, and if I ever fell off, it felt easy to crank it up a bit to even my time out. I ran with some people for a bit and then either passed them or lost them in the mist. I remember talking to one guy who had to take a dump and lost his friend. He latched onto me in an attempt to make up time and catch his buddy, but I think he burnt himself out.
I knew that getting into town was going to hurt. I had been dealing with some plantar faciitis and was anxiously waiting for it to flare up. Even though the crowd support is really big in town, that is where I’ve always started to feel the burn in the half marathon. Sure enough, I felt my pace drop off bit by bit going past the Glensheen Mansion into Lemondrop Hill. My legs and muscles were starting to feel super fatigued, but I gathered the mental fortitude to put these thoughts of pain aside. Also, I knew my friends and supporters were coming up quickly.
I got a second wind as I came into the London Road business district. I think that this is always where you can pull through and have a good race, or crumble. I saw a group of friends on the side of the road and my form all the sudden was fantastic and I didn’t hurt so bad anymore. Andy snapped a few pics.
I also knew that Duluth Running Co. was right around the corner. That was going to be a huge boost because they always have a ton of spectators and a lot of familiar faces. And a free keg, so everyone cheers loudly. I ditched two gels at DRC, which means I only had two gels and sporadic water and Powerade at aid stations.
DRC was great. It felt like I was running a 5 minute mile and I high fived everyone on the curb and then disappeared into the mist. Once I was hidden, I could feel my back slump and my hips collapse. I was really fatigued, but at this point, you just keep running the final two or three miles. I tried to keep my pace but know I dropped off a bit. I knew I had to get around a 2:57 flat to hit my goal pace, and I really wanted to go under that, so I tried to kick it up in the finishing chute. My sister Emily snapped a few pics from the stands, where my parents and sister were spectating.
When I finished, I felt my calves cramp up immediately. I dropped down to grab them in pain. A volunteer came up to me and said that I better walk. He was right… I got up and my calves felt much better. Then, I waited at the massage tent with some snacks. Boy, that was uncomfortable. Walking felt good. The pain subsided until I sat down or just stood there. After 15 minutes with no line movement, I opted for self massage instead. I saw my parents and friends on my way to the drop bag area. The race went well and the only low moment of the day was when my running friend Stacie missed her BQ by a few minutes. If she kept her pace through the halfway mark, she would have met her goal by, like, 15 minutes. But that is price you pay for starting off too hot!
Overall, I was very pleased with the race. It went perfectly according to plan. Although I was slightly off my goal, the time was still really good in my eyes, and I had a new viewpoint on the marathon distance.
To avoid piercing barks, I was back running that week!
Shoes: Brooks Pureflow 3