Race Day: Saturday, June 17, 2017 – 6:15am

It was fun to go back to the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon after running Grandma’s Marathon the past three years (2014, 2015, and 2016). Leading up to the infamous Grandma’s weekend in Duluth, my training was pretty good. I was running faster and stronger than ever, had a huge bank of running volume from the Zumbro ramp-up in March, and had done a pretty nice job of sharpening up and running fast on top of big miles.

I set a 50 mile PR and a 5k PR both in April, but took a few weeks nearly entirely off shortly thereafter with an achilles tendon scare. Luckily, I nipped any injuries at the bud and felt pretty decent with my half marathon training. My workouts, tempo runs (NMTC spring race series), and long runs were consistent and I felt pretty spry on race week. Long ago, my goal was 1:15. I thought I could break 1:15, but barely, while plotting my racing calendar in January. I thought 1:14:59 would be a great goal time, but started to think I had a sub-73 minute run in me. High expectations.

I felt like an idiot going to sleep on Friday night because I had a huge burrito and was really full. Why did I overstuff myself?? I woke up at 4:25am the next morning and nailed my morning routine. Cereal, Mt. Dew, and the bathroom stop was perfectly according to plan. I jogged down to the corner and met Savannah and a few other of her running buddies. We walked to Fitger’s, about a mile from my house, to catch the bus. This was the first time in 9 consecutive years not taking the bus from University of Minnesota-Duluth. I nibbled a few caffeinated jelly beans and drank some Mt. Dew and felt good. Ready to roll.

My legs felt OK once we got to the start line. Maybe a little heavy. I waited in line for the bathrooms and the final step of my pre-race routine was executed. I had plenty of time to find my way to the start line and do some warm ups. With around 7,500 people starting the race, it’s always an anxiety-provoking thought to get caught behind thousands of 2-hour half-marathoners.

It felt like no time before the race organizers corralled us behind the line and got the race start sequence underway. National anthem, equipment check, everyone is lined up, flags up, checking watches, and nervous energy of the fast runners all around me at the front. I could only image the throngs of people behind me.

Photo credit: Duluth Eastern Observer

Without further ado, the horns blasted and we were off. I had talked to Gregg before the start and he wanted to go sub-1:15. I had my sights set on Gregg right away. He’s a seasoned racer and knows exactly what to do, so if I could pace off of him I’d probably get my goal.

Otherwise, my pacing strategy was to go out at 5:40-5:45 pace and hope to feel good through mile 6. If the first six miles didn’t feel smooth, I’d have to reassess, but I figured they’d click right off given my fitness level. In training, 5:30’s felt easy to hold for a couple of miles, which is a good sign.

I couldn’t believe how fast the first mile went by. My watch beeped 5:30 and I remembered Savannah saying I’m an idiot if my first mile is the fastest one and there is no way I can do a 5:40 first mile. Well, what does that say about how my race will go, I thought? The second mile seemed to come and go in a flash and I was worried that the race would go by too quickly!

I saw Gregg and passed him. Another local runner, Adam Swank, latched on to my heels. We were with a little pack of people, a few elite women that came and went, but Swank did not waver from his place right beside me. My pace was right on track, in the low 5:40 range, and I was pleased to have a little buffer with the fast first mile. I was doing great mile after mile as they whizzed by until Brighton Beach.

I wasn’t super comfortable, but managing the pace really nicely. I felt a few stomach pangs. Nothing serious, really, but my systems felt a little off. I thought how I have to pee. No, that is a non-factor. Whatever. I have to poop. No, not this in a half marathon… My thoughts were a bit negative as we crossed the Lester River, and Adam ran away from me. Should I stop? Nah. But running was hard and getting slower. I lost my fluid rhythm. I didn’t feel right, to run at my pace was labored and it was because of some general discomfort with my systems. Then, I felt the unquestionable quench of the bowels around 4oth Avenue East, after a couple of slower miles. I still had the buffer, but truly could not decide if I’d be best to stop and get it out. I knew I could do my business quickly, and it would likely make the remaining five or six miles much more comfortable. Or could I gut it out and save the stop? OR would I poop my pants in front of hundreds of spectators on Superior Street and Lake Avenue? I’d have to move away from Duluth and never do Grandma’s again!

My pace slowed further by a few seconds, and I knew I was in the 6:00 per mile range. My legs felt OK, my breathing was fine, but it was some heaviness slowing me down. A heaviness that I could leave in a port-a-pottie. I didn’t know if it would help or hurt, but ate my one gel at the Glensheen Mansion. It went down fine.

I crested Lemon Drop Hill and did a few calculations. 4.1 miles left. I was slowing to about 20 seconds below my race pace. I was maybe 20 seconds down from my goal time of 1:14:59. Gregg had passed me, looking really good with a rock-solid group. I couldn’t latch on.

Lemon Drop Hill felt OK, actually, but I have run and raced enough in my life to know my body. And once you feel “The Clench”, it never gets better, it only gets worse, despite sometimes coming in waves. At 21st Avenue East, I couldn’t focus on the cheering fans everywhere. It was a terrible feeling, and I made the decision to stop at the john. Terrible. How do I have to make an emergency dump stop at a half marathon? At Zumbro 50 mile in March I’d run with less stops!! Crap!

Photo credit: Tone Coughlin – Endurance Kennels LLC

Photo credit: Tone Coughlin – Endurance Kennels LLC

Luckily, it was in and out, and I was determined to let ‘er rip on the final 5k with no mental (or physical) blocks. I sprinted out of the capsule feeling great, and with something to prove. I had to justify and offset the stop.

It was just what I needed to completely change the tone of the race. Shortly thereafter, my watch beeped to signify I was 10 miles into the race. The time it took to run the previous mile was 6:38. A full minute slower than what that mile should have been. Or could have been. That’d take a fast 5k to make it up! I couldn’t do the math, and figured I’d put that mental energy into finishing the race as fast as I could, without questioning what may have happened down that final stretch down Superior Street. With huge volume in my legs, and a decent threshold speed built up, it was time to shred.

Photo credit: Grant Johnson

I was finally able to soak in the crowd support, and I felt like I was flying. It was still a bit painful, but I could hold on and felt like I was running at a good clip. My watch’s mile splits confirmed that, and I was back on track with high 5:30’s/low 5:40’s per mile coming into Downtown Duluth. Duluth Running Company is always a welcome boost of adrenaline, and I ripped down that block. All downhill from here, I thought…

Photo credit: Duluth Eastern Observer

Photo credit: Duluth Eastern Observer

All I could do was hold it together through Lake Avenue, and I was passing people, which fueled the fire. I sped up. I glanced at my watch to see the mileage and time, and did some quick guesstimates. A fine consolation to sub 1:15 would be a finish time IN the 1:15’s, and I was going to be very close. So I picked it up. I bashed my quads on the up-and-down across 5th Avenue West, and passed a couple more struggling elites.

My face started to form a grimace, and my stride lengthened considerably as I dug deep to find higher gear. I remembered the Superior NMTC race where I consciously increased my cadence and pulled away from Nate (who was about to start the marathon at the moment the thought crossed my mind). I tried that method for a second but reverted back to overstriding. It was ugly but who cares. Another glance at my watch and I was disheartened to see that I missed my primary goal of 1:14:59. However, I was past the William A. Irvin and just had a few more seconds of pain left. I was breathing really heavy, and started to feel a drag while running under the Lake Avenue bridge. Around the hotels and the finish line was in sight. One final glance at my watch and I knew I had to kick it in in a major way to at least get a 1:15. I sprinted, my eyes on the clock perched high above the finish line.I knew I was close enough to the start line for that time shown to be accurate.

I passed the announcer line and heard my name. The adrenaline was pumping so hard at this point it would be impossible to slow down. My field of vision narrowed as I lunged across the finish. I remembered to stop my watch shortly after the finish, and and was happy to see 1:15:XX as my run slowed to a jog then to a walk. Good for a solid PR by nearly two minutes, but I hadn’t run a half marathon outright in over two years!

I was pissed as I finished. My immediate emotion was frustration. How could I dump during a stupid hour-long race? Weak! I blame the burrito! No, no, I can’t stay mad at burritos. My frustration changed to happiness and elation as I had a medal hung around my neck, and collected my shirt, beer ticket and chocolate milk. If anything, I was eager to find another half marathon to race soon while I have the fitness. Adam came in in the 1:13’s, and Gregg finished in 1:14:50. Double crap! I knew if I could stick with Gregg, I’d be right on the money. I figured that if I didn’t stop for the e-dump, my pace would have stayed around the 6:00 per mile region and my time would be much worse. Strategically, perhaps it was the right move. But a flub in race execution no doubt.

Photo credit: Duluth Eastern Observer

With Grandma’s Weekend over with, I am super excited to revert back to long trail training and racing. I think having a fast half marathon under my belt is a good base to pile trail mileage onto.

Results

Garmin Data

Race Stats:

Place: 68/7,337
Time: 1:15:54
Pace: 5:48

Shoes: Saucony Freedom ISO
Food: Gu Roctane Tutti Frutti

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


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