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
10 Aug 2014
Race Day: August 10, 2014
After two sweet races in a row, I was so ready to keep it going at the Green Lake Tri. This one is a perennial classic for me, and I love the flat and fast course, so I was amped. Ryan, Nick and I booked a hotel and went down to Willmar for the night.
As opposed to the previous two weekends, the weather at Green Lake was terrible. I really don’t like racing triathlons in the rain, and it was really rainy and cold. That should make for a fast run, anyways. I was really excited to let it rip on the fast course. I was also borrowing a pair of race wheels from my buddy Bill, so I figured I could have a super fast bike split and follow it with a steaming run in the rain.
I was confident that I would be able to take Nick down again, despite the longer run. I figured with a little more flux room in the swim and bike, I’d have enough to hold him off. Another guy on the start list, who was pegged to win by Minnesota Tri News, was a guy who calls himself Casey Miller. He was a fast bike-runner but I had him on the swim. My plan was to get out of the water with a big margin, hold everyone off on the bike and have a steady, fast run for the win.
In the warm water, I started off the same way as Brewhouse one week earlier–push it early and establish a good position in the front. Another guy really crushed the swim and I couldn’t catch him. I swam neck and neck with another guy who I didn’t see after T1, but he was swerving everywhere!
When I got onto the bike course, I tried to let it rip. I didn’t see anyone in front of me or behind me, so it was kind of lonely out there by myself. At the turnaround, I saw Tim Bode, the fast swimmer, hammering. I’ve raced him here before and knew I could catch him on the run if I shrink his lead on the bike a bit. Once I started the return route, I saw Casey pretty close behind me, and Nick pretty close to him. This was going to be a good race!
I got off the bike and zinged through the transition zone. The announcer, Jerry MacNeil, mentioned that that sort of fast transition meant that I was going for the win. Correct! I knew I would catch Tim, it was just a matter of how long it would take Casey to get me, how long we could run together, and who had the grit to finish it out in first place. As I was exiting transition, I knew Casey was in. I started off fast and tried to lock into a pace early. I felt good running. Casey caught up to me near the short course turnaround in between miles 1 and 2. I stuck on his shoulder and we ran side by side for a half mile or so. I got a little cocky and wanted to make a move, so I kicked it up. He matched me stride for stride. Then I eased back into my pace and he kept going. That crushed me mentally. What a weak move!
At the turnaround, I knew Casey had the win. He put too much time on me just in that mile, he looked strong, and I started to feel really bad physically as well as mentally. I saw Nick after I turned around and he was pretty close. He had passed Tim as well and looked speedy. A mile later, I looked around to see how much he had gained on me, and he was right on my shoulder! I didn’t even hear him coming and he passed me in a picosecond. I told him Casey was 5 minutes or so ahead and he zoomed off, leaving me in his dust. That was tough mentally, as well, because I knew that I had third place no matter what. I could probably walk a little bit and still get the third spot. My pace slowed and I dragged myself across the finish.
Nick reeled Casey in for an amazing first place finish. As mentally tough this race was for me, especially after two big races in a row, it was a huge mental boost for Nick and I was really happy. I know Casey was kind of pissed getting reeled in, but it sounds like he faded a bit, too.
It was still a fun race, I won my age group, and I love the production of the Green Lake Tri.
Wetsuit: Blueseventy Helix (From, like, 2007)
Bike: Specialized Transition AL with HED3 wheelset
Shoes: Brooks Pureflow 3
Run: 39:16 (For comparison, Nick had a 32:00 run split. Freak status)
02 Aug 2014
Race Day: August 2, 2014 – 8:30am
After an outstanding race in Chisago a week before, I was more excited than ever to defend my Brewhouse Short Course title. I had won the race three times in a row and going for number four. Although there is always the chance of a ringer coming in for the win, I had had this race locked down really well all three times. The biggest threat in my mind was Nick, Assistant Manager at Duluth Running Co., and running phenom. We had been training more and more and more together during the spring and summer and I finally convinced him to dip his toes in the tri game. He had pretty good results at Timberman short course, finishing second, but had recently dropped stacks on a tri bike and wetsuit. In the tri game, you can buy speed.
During the week, I went on a couple of short, fast rides, and kept my running up. My race strategy is pretty fail-proof, so I went with it again–start really fast in the swim to get out front, hold a blistering pace in the water and come out the leader. Keep the lead on the bike and put a lot of time on any fast runners, then leave it all on the run course by starting fast and ending fast.
Everything looked good in transition. The weather was literally perfect. I got a little swim warmup in and the gun went off. I really pushed it hard on the way out to the first buoy in the thin rectangled-shaped swim course. I think I was the first to turn, tried to sight smartly on the next short section. I think I was still in first turning the last buoy, and tried to look back and stack up the competition. Nobody on my heels. On the home stretch, I was breathing really heavy only on one side and tried to keep it tight and fast. When I got to the beach, I looked back and there wasn’t anyone even close. I had the perfect swim. Now to go to work.
After a speedy transition, I hopped on my bike. It took a second to get my feet into my bike shoes. I’ve been careful with this after popping the shoe off a few times. That takes much more time than carefully getting my feet in. Once I was locked in, I brought it to the pain locker. I focused on smooth, round pedal strokes and to generate as much power as possible. At the turnaround, there wasn’t anyone that close to me. Some of the closer guys to me weren’t able to run with me, so I was specifically looking for Nick, who would surely out run me. He was in 10th place or so when I saw him, and my confidence soared. As long as I could crush it on the way back, the run would be a piece of cake.
I rushed through T2 as fast as humanly possible and was out on the run. I tried to keep my legs turning over as fast as possible… it’s hard to get that pure speed, all out anaerobic feeling after biking, no matter what the distance. As long as Nick isn’t breathing down my neck… I hit the turnaround and didn’t see anyone even close to me. Once I got back onto the road (the turnaround is a lollipop shape), I saw Nick cruising really fast, but he was too far off. I knew I had it in the bag, but kept pushing just in case. The finish chute was ecstatic.
After catching my breath, I turned around and saw Nick coming in fast. Wow, he picked a TON of people off on the run. He put two and a half minutes on me on the run, and I had the second fasted run. This was a 5k run, by the way.
I was happy to have two awesome triathlon races in a row and also to uphold my title as Brewhouse Short Course champion.
Wetsuit: Blueseventy Helix (from, like, 2007)
Bike: Specialized Transition AL
Shoes: Brooks Pureflow 3