Grandma’s Marathon Race Recap
2013 was the year that I first believed that I had a shot at one day qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials. On a sticky note, I wrote “6:13,” the pace I needed to achieve my goal, and I pinned it to my office cubicle as a daily reminder. However, instead of getting faster, I spent the next few years trying to recover from various injuries. Coming back from a sprained ankle and doing too much too soon, I got two stress fractures in my lower right leg while trying to train for Boston 2014. The big problem was that even though my stress fractures healed, I still had significant pain at the spot of the lower one. It was well over a year before I felt like I could run without pain and years before I could train at the level I did before I sprained my ankle. During that time though, I would dream of one day getting to a starting line healthy and fit and qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials. Well, that day finally came and it was this past Saturday at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN.
Around 7:40am, I lined up in the elite corral at the start of the race in Two Harbors, MN. I somehow got behind Kellyn Taylor. I felt completely out of place and motioned to some guys that they needed to get in front of me. There was no way that I was going to be running as fast as Kellyn or them! I kept looking at the sky and wondering about the weather. Should I have worn my sunglasses or am I going to be thankful for this hat later? See, the day before, the weather was all anyone could talk about! Duluth had experienced some severe thunderstorms around lunch (I saw garbage cans being blown down the street as if a tornado was coming through!), and there was a strong chance of more storms the next morning during the race. It was my first bit of good luck that I woke up Saturday morning, and the chance of rain had somehow miraculously dropped to 20%.
Quite unexpectedly, the gun went off. There was no countdown or announcements. It was a quiet start for what would be mostly a quiet and peaceful race.
Unlike the Chicago marathon where I started out very conservatively, I quickly got down to race pace. In fact, the first quarter of mile was probably way too fast as I got caught up with all the runners leaping off the starting line. But, I settled in as quickly as I could and started trying to tick off the miles. My race strategy was to try to run around a 2:42 – 2:43 pace with my main goal being to break 2:45. I figured it would be good to have a little cushion in case I slowed in the final miles.
Before the race, I spent way too much time decorating ten water bottles that the Grandma’s Marathon team later placed along the course. At mile 3, I approached the first elite water table and zipped past without even a glimpse of my bottle. I heard one of the volunteers say that one of the bottles was on the ground, and I wondered if that was my bottle. At mile 5, determined to get my bottle, I basically came to a complete stop and searched for my bottle on the table, which I found on a back row. Mile 7 water stop, which is where I took my first gel, was even more of a disaster. I hesitated right before I hit the pause button on my watch, remembering that I can’t stop the race clock, while I searched for my water bottle that I needed to wash down my gel. Later in the race, volunteers began pointing out where your bottle was located (they are not allowed to hand you your bottle per USATF rules) and the bottles were more spread out making my own easier to spot, but the chaos at the first few stops was definitely stressful.
I did my best to remain calm even with the fluid station situations. And the quiet course with lots of trees and no turns was the perfect setting to relax and just run. It seemed that before I knew it, balloons were popping up marking another mile completed. I ran with different groups during this time. I tried not to commit myself too much to one particular pack because I wanted to make sure I ran my own race, not too fast and not too slow. At one point, I was running with a group of guys that were clearly friends. They were joking around, and it reminded me of some of the long runs I did with the Charlotte Running Club guys. Just another training run, I told myself.
I ran over the first timing mat at the 10K mark in 38:16. Right on pace, I told myself. At the halfway mark, I crossed in 1:21:30. Perfect. Right on 2:43 pace. I probably would have like to have crossed halfway slightly faster, but only if it came easily. And 2:43 pace was clearly where my body felt like running.
After crossing the halfway mark, I knew I’d see my boyfriend, Franklin, soon. He was biking a street over from the course along with our friend Laura from Charlotte, and he promised the he’d pop in a few times on the second half. It wasn’t long after passing all the Jimmy Johnnies for the half marathon starters that I saw Franklin and Laura. I smiled and gave a little wave, glad to see them and have a mental boost.
It was over the next few miles that I started to feel my quads. I knew the race course was technically a net downhill and that it was described as “rolling flat,” but I started feeling like maybe it was more downhill that I had prepared for. Around mile 19, I was coming into Duluth, and starting to worry if maybe I had dug myself in a hole. My quads were really screaming. I remember telling myself that I was less than a mile from 20 and that once I hit 20, I was supposed to be hurting some. I’d also be in the final stretch where the race got real. I remember contemplating quitting very briefly. Maybe I can drop out and do Chicago? But then I knew if I couldn’t qualify for the Trials at Grandma’s, after so many great long training runs, when could I do it? I kept trucking on.
I hit the 20 mile mark in 2:04:06, but I had forgotten what my goal was for the split. I just thought Great! Just a 10K to go. I told myself that I was just going to ease up a bit and take a breather. I stopped looking at my watch so much, but when I glanced down, I realized that I was still running fast. Mile 20 – 6:14 pace. Mile 21 – 6:17 pace. 6:17 pace is a 2:45 marathon, I told myself. Just keep this up and then I can run ever slower the last few miles and still break 2:45! Yes, at this point, I was trying to figure out how to break 2:45 while putting my body through the least amount of pain possible.
Infamous Lemon Drop Hill came around mile 22. I saw Franklin and Laura again, and told them about my quads hurting. Franklin said that it was all downhill after Lemon Drop. Wonderful. More downhill. Mentally, though, it was awesome to give over the hill that really wasn’t much of one to be honest. I knew I was closing in on the final stretch. I think I saw Oiselle’s Sally around this time too, who I had met the day before at a Oiselle Volée get together. Like the dork I am, I was excited to see her again, so I waved and said Hi as I passed.
Mile 22 – 6:14. Mile 23 – 6:19. Mile 24 – 6:16. I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was going to make it. I was so thankful for the crowds during this time that started to carry me towards the finish line. Around mile 24, I passed an elite that looked like she had blown up and that urged me to run even faster. We had to cut over a street due to the new course detour, and my quads screamed as I pounded down a ramp.
The last couple of miles had not only most of the turns in the race, but all of the turns! And evidently, I wasn’t the best at running the tangents, because the race clocked my split from 25 to the finish to be at 6:23 pace, but my watch showed Mile 25 – 6:19, Mile 26 – 6:09, and the final .27 at 5:38. Only 0.07 of extra course really is quite good though for a marathon!
In the final mile, I did get passed by one girl. And sadly, I did not care. I told her Good job! Go get it! And then I maintained my pace. I was done. Or so I thought. As I approached the finish line, I saw another girl who looked like she was probably feeling worse that I, so I gritted my teeth and did my best to sprint past her. I looked at the clock as I approached the finish line, and I had a faint feeling of disappointment that I wouldn’t break 2:43. But more than anything, I was thankful/relieved/freaking pumped that I had just finished a marathon in 2:43:09, an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time…a goal I had worked for and dreamed about for so long.