The 35th running of Grandma’s Marathon was greeted with weather that was cool and rainy. Regardless of the weather, 6,333 runners still laced up to surpass the 26.2 miles of whatever was against them. As for me, I headed back there to Duluth where I had my first ever marathon at Grandma’s one year ago. Being it was my first, I’ll never forget my first 26.2 in Duluth.
The first thing I did after waking up at 5:00AM Saturday morning was to look outside and catch glimpse of a dark downpour that instantly seized my enthusiasm. I gathered my things, slipped on my Team Respire Running singlet and headed to the bus ready to take us runners to Two Harbors and the start of our taken-on challenge. For the entire bumpy ride I found myself praying that the rain would diminish so that the many of us could stay dry before we started our race and just as our bus driver pulled open the door allowing us to exit – the rain subsided to a light sprinkle. We all spent an hour outside chilly and unsure of the cloudy canopy’s spontaneity. I lined up at the 3:30 finishing-time area and awaited the sound of the horn sounding the official start. At 7:35AM, still luckily dry, I heard the horn and jostled with the mass of bobbing bodies onto the pavement ahead.
Miles 1-2 were ran for one sole reason: find a bathroom. The lines were enormous for the available ones at the start, but I had no time to wait in line. After making my stop during the first miles, I was ready to settle in at my predetermined plan: use as little of energy as possible and put the cruise button on at 7:50 – 8:00/mile pace for the first 10-12 miles. I was sure that if I went out as conservative as possible, I knew my ability to push myself at a 6:55 per mile pace in the last 8-10 miles would be manageable. Things started to change when I hit mile 11 and felt that my legs were not excited to run that day. This argument lasted until my last step across the finish line. Miles 11-14 I was on the struggle bus, not sure how the second half of the race was to go.
At mile 14, my stride broke into a rhythm and I was surprised at my second wind of energy and took off. I brought myself up to a projected finishing time pace of 3:04, or 6:56 pace. I was psyched! How did this happen? (Honestly, I think it had to do with wearing Brooks.) For the next six miles I was on pace to surprise myself with a great time, and set a new personal record and perhaps even a Boston qualifying time. Just as sudden and unexpected as becoming hypothermic at the Fargo Marathon was, my leftÂ iliotibialÂ band had its own way of being unexpected and unwelcoming. I knew I was in trouble – once the IT band becomes inflamed, there is little to nothing you can do besides stop and rest and stretch for two days. I saw my hopes of a fantastic time slip away as the 3:10/pace group passed me as I had to pull to the side of the course to do anything to stretch out my hip and knee so that I could finish the 8 miles ahead. I stretched and started again only for it to come back only two miles later. Again I saw my hopes slipping away once the 3:20/pace group pass me. I gave myself every ounce of personal persuasion I could as I hobbled off to try and keep up with the 3:20/pace group. Every bend of the knee was one done in pain and I found myself either ahead or behind of the 3:20 group each consecutive mile.
With four miles to go I entered the most painful feeling of running I have ever experienced in my many years of racing. For the entirety of the race I was by myself and on my own in keeping my motivation to carry on and finish with strength, but at this point – I was ready to let my body go and collapse into any soft surface along the way and try and let the pain drift away anywhere I could manage. I gritted my teeth and didn’t quit. After pushing my body to the point where I thought my left knee was ready to morph into something like Decepticon and start destroying the rest of me each pull of each leg forward, I started taking the left-hand turns toward the last miles of the course. I could no longer see the 3:20/pace group and I was left to make sure my body ended up passed the finish line. I crossed with the tick of 3:22:39. I was wrapped in a heat blanket, downed a water along with being awarded the finisher’s medal and limped to the runners’ recovery area.
I couldn’t stand. I tried. I let myself fall into a pile of myself somewhere in the middle of everything and soon thereafter I had strangers lifting me into a wheelchair asking me what they could do to help. I wasn’t sure what they could do besides take my legs off and give me anything in their place. I told them I was “cramping up pretty bad” in the calves and I was in some extreme pain. They took me to a medical tent either labeled “A” or “B” and settled me into a cot and started to make sure I was warm, along with two medical students per leg massaging my calves. I was fed Gatorade, water, pretzels, and chocolate milk and had my blood pressure taken several times. It took some time for my calves to finally relax and seem to not hurt anymore. The doctors left and allowed me to put my warm clothes on, but as I reached to pull on my jogging pants, my calves seized up in a violent cramping causing me to grasp anything around me and squirm as though I’d been stabbed right where the pain lie. I had more experienced doctors come to work out the cramping, again for a long period of time. They were about to put an IV in me until I told them that I would likely “pass out from seeing that go in my arm”. The IV passed me by, but it was replaced by more intensive Gatorade intake along with the pretzels. A half hour or so passed until my calves seemed to be calm enough for the docs to release me back onto my feet and on I go. I somehow got vertical and walked out to meet up with my friends to recount our experiences from the morning.
To sum those long paragraphs up, I had another fantastic Grandma’s Marathon in hindsight. I ran a smart race. I took it easy up the gradual inclines, I ran the tangents, and I paced myself for much of the race to ensure I wouldn’t crash and burn prematurely. I am happy with my time of 3:22 and couldn’t ask for a more fun weekend. The best part I’m taking away from this weekend is the marathon racing experience. Instead of marathons they should appropriately be named “monsters” instead because of how I view them, along with others I’m sure. The gained experience I have now after three marathons allows me to plan my marathon training and racing future. I am not sure when my next 26.2 monster will be, but I am sure to tackle 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-monsters for awhile until I find the next appropriate place to run the full-monster again.
So for much of the rest of the summer, I’ll be out racing just as my legs, mind, body, and heart were meant to do. Never know – maybe I’ll see you!