Well folks, Marathon #2 is in the books! Here’s how it went down…
I arrived in Duluth on Thursday evening, where I would be staying with my friend Annie who was also running Grandma’s as her first marathon. On Friday Annie and I went to the expo to pick up our packets and spend an absurd amount of money, and we also did a little exploring of Duluth – she showed me around Canal Park and we even ate at the place that started it all –
After that, we met up with Charissa and Allison! It was so cool to finally meet them! We had fun getting to know each other over coffee, and then Allison and I headed to the pre-race pasta dinner at the expo. Love me some spaghetti, even if I’m so nervous that I can barely eat! After that I went back to Annie’s house and relaxed before going to bed.
I got up at around 5 AM and had three pieces of cinnamon raisin toast with PB and a cup of coffee for breakfast. Annie and I got to UMD in time to take the last shuttle to the start line at 6:15ish.
It’s a good thing we brought trash bags in case of rain because the minute our bus pulled up to the start area it started POURING. There were a zillion porta potties at the start area and yet the lines for them were still ridiculous. Annie and I must have stood in line for like a half hour as it continued to pour down rain on us, because by the time I finally got to do my business I had 5 minutes left to get into the starting line. By that point, it was super full and since you can only enter it from the back, I had to desperately shove my way through hordes of people until I finally found the 3:50 start area, just in time.
How this all played out was kind of a blessing in disguise, because it didn’t give me any time to stand around and think about how much it sucked to have rain pouring down on me. Although I will note for the future and for anyone who decides to run this marathon: take the earliest shuttle possible! Leaving at 6:15 for a 7:45 marathon seems like it’s a lot of time, but it’s really not!
The Early Miles
Somewhat miraculously, the rain died down a bit just as we started running (or maybe it just didn’t seem as bad because I was running instead of standing around? Either way, I ditched my garbage bag less than a mile in). It was actually really nice, because it was now just a light rain/drizzle and it was still pretty cool so it felt great.
From the minute I crossed the start line I became singularly focused on making sure I was staying at my prescribed starting pace (8:50s). Going out too fast was my biggest fear for this race and I knew it would be my undoing, so in the days before the race I became focused on making sure I didn’t make this mistake, almost to the point of obsession. It worked, because I did stay at this pace and I breathed a sigh of relief that it felt nice and easy. The first handful of miles went by quickly, as the first miles of any race tend to do.
There were several gently rolling hills and gradual inclines, but nothing that threw me off, and I knew to expect them.
The Halfway Point
I became a little concerned when I approached the halfway point in 1:54:something – I was just barely on pace for my goal and apparently my mental math was off because I thought I had been making a little bit better time than that. I wasn’t too worried, though – I was still on pace, I felt fine, and I only had about a minute that I needed to make up over the next 13 miles.
There were speakers blasting music and more spectators here, since this is where the half marathon had started. When I ran through they were playing the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” and somehow this was just the most perfect song to be playing at that moment. It made me smile and laugh, it was just so fun and funny right then. A guy running near me even busted out a couple disco arm swings. This song will have a new meaning for me now and this is probably one of my most vivid memories from the race.
Teen Angst: Miles 14-21
This stretch was the worst part of my race. I was pretty miserable. As the miles delved further into the teens I started to really get tired. I couldn’t understand it – I started out easy, I did months of cumulative fatigue training, how is this happening? How am I tired with 9 miles left to go? This is NOT how this was supposed to work!
For most of the course, we are running through a wooded, sparsely populated area and there were long sections with no spectators. I was surprised to find myself getting a little bored and mentally fatigued. It was pretty, but the monotony was starting to get to me. Suddenly the miles weren’t going by as fast anymore.
By this point it had completely stopped raining and the roads were even drying up. I was really starting to feel the lingering mugginess. At one point, the sun peeked out for a short stretch. A lot of people said they welcomed this, but I didn’t like it – it just made it hotter and exacerbated my fatigue. Luckily the sun went back behind the clouds shortly thereafter.
At mile 19 or 20, a water stop volunteer asked me if I was doing OK. Maybe he asked everyone that, or maybe he just caught me in a weird facial expression as I ran by but all I could think was, “oh GOD. Do I really look that bad?!?!” This made me realize I needed to get my butt in gear. It took a couple more miles but I kept at it, eased up a bit (I had accidentally run mile 19 in 8:19. Whoops), and slowly started to hatch out of my fatigue egg.
The Turning Point: Lemon Drop Hill and the Final Miles
The turning point in my race came in an unlikely place – the infamous Lemon Drop Hill. The hill itself is really not bad but, at mile 22, it’s at a point in the race where many runners are starting to hit the wall, so it has garnered a fair amount of dread amongst Grandma’s Marathoners.
I made sure I held back just a smidge in the miles leading up to Lemon Drop, hoping to conserve some energy. When the hill approached I just took a deep breath and made my way up, reminding myself to stay strong and that this was no different than the hills I’ve run a million times in training. The climb ended up really not being so bad.
Once over Lemon Drop Hill, we started making our way into downtown Duluth, where the crowds started to pick up, there was more energy in the air, and most of the remaining miles were either flat or downhill.
Buoyed by the cheering crowds and the change of scenery, I charged into those final miles through downtown Duluth. The remarkable thing about it, though, was that I didn’t make any conscious effort to start surging – it just sort of happened. I thought about trying to pick up the pace only to find that my legs were already doing it. I didn’t ask them to, they just did.
We hit the 25 mile mark and turned out of downtown to head down into Canal Park, and I could just feel that finish line waiting for me. I was ready. It was hard, but I didn’t care – it was time to give it everything I had. I kept thinking of the numerous tempo runs and MP runs and fast finish long runs during my training – I needed to push hard to finish strong in all of those runs and if I did it then, I could do it now, too. When I passed the 25 mile marker and the clock read 3:35:something, I knew I had this pretty much locked in – doing mental math I realized I could slow down to a 10 minute pace and still make my goal. But I didn’t want to take it easy – now that I was feeling strong and knew my goal was in the bag, I wanted to charge forth and get the best time I possibly could.
Sometimes you don’t know your own strength until you are put to the test and end up doing things you never thought possible. As an example, let me direct you to my splits from the last few miles of the race:
Yup. That’s right. Who ran a sub-8:00 mile after already running 25 miles? THIS GIRL. There it is, my little marathon miracle 🙂 Looking down at my watch and seeing that split was without a doubt the highlight of this race.
I approached the finish and I booked it as hard as I could. When I crossed the timing mats and stopped my watch, I looked down and saw that I had come in at just under 3:47! Wow! In a few moments, I would find out that my official finish time and shiny new marathon PR was…*drumroll*…
I achieved my A goal for this race with over 3 minutes to spare, and PR’d a whopping 15 minutes from my first marathon only 8 months ago.
Honestly, it’s still a little hard to believe this all just happened. Over 48 hours and one detailed race recap later and I still don’t think I’ve really processed the fact that I am a 2x marathoner with a PR of 3:46.
All the things I did in training – the high mileage, the cultivation of fatigue and pushing myself to run on tired legs every week with 5 days in a row of running, negative splitting almost all of my long runs and fast-finishing my 20-milers – it really came through for me in the end. It trained my body so well that my legs knew what to do without my mind having to tell them. They sped up in the last few miles of a marathon because that’s what I trained them to do every week by practicing finishing strong and not taking the easy way out. In my first marathon, I faded in the last few miles. In this one, I gained speed and strength in the last few miles and I know that all of this hard training is the reason for that difference.
I feel like it goes without saying that I’m super proud of myself and couldn’t be happier with my performance. I had a great time this weekend, not just in the race but in Duluth, sharing this experience with friends old and new.
I also can’t believe that this is already behind me now and that it’s time to move forward. Of course, there are more things I’ve learned from this experience, and I’ll want to evaluate my training and start looking ahead to my next training cycle. But I really just need more time to digest all of this before I start reflecting on my training, and I am so not ready to start thinking about another marathon training cycle yet!
I plan on fully enjoying these next couple weeks of recovery with no long runs, short weekly workouts at easy paces and tons of free time. My number one goal is to use that free time to seriously clean the heck out of our apartment – it wasn’t until I got home from Duluth that I realize how seriously I’ve neglected things these past few weeks and months while I was training my butt off and Kevin was working late or out of town. Time to get my life ready for summer and a fresh new training cycle!
My heartfelt thanks to all of you, who have encouraged me this whole way and cheered me on all the way to the finish. Your support means the world to me, and thanks so much for joining me on this journey!
Stay tuned! 🙂