Just a disclaimer/reminder that this post will be extremely long and that I’m writing it mostly for myself to help me remember this momentous occasion.
The first miles
What I remember about the first few miles of Grandma’s Marathon was the crazy noise that thousands of people running in trash bags and ponchos makes. It was a giant rustling herd, and as people got warmer and warmer, the protective coverings started littering the side of the road, and sometimes the middle of the roadway. It was quite colorful and yet somehow depressing. Wet trash bags are just sad. I ditched my fleece at the starting line and my poncho about 2.5 miles in. I tried to roll/fold it up and tuck it in my waistband, thinking that I may want or need it again later, but I couldn’t get the damn thing collapsed to a reasonable size, and every few steps it kept working its way out. I knew I wouldn’t be able to expend precious energy fighting to keep a rogue poncho tucked into my shorts, so I abandoned it altogether and resigned myself to just getting wet. The 5:30 pace group leader was a really dynamic dude who was rallying his troops, and saying all sorts of positive, funny things. I could tell they were going to have a good time. I felt like going just a smidge ahead of them was more comfortable for me though, so I didn’t stay with them for long. I checked my Garmin a couple of times and saw I was doing 11 minute miles, which is just how I envisioned myself starting out. I was keeping in mind that I hadn’t done a long run like this in several weeks and that I needed to warm up. There were very few spectators out on the scenic highway because as a spectator you need to make a choice as to whether you’re going to be out on the course or at the finish line, there’s not a way to do both due to road closures and how the route is situated. There were just a few course monitors here and there, or people who had homes or properties right off the highway keeping watch under umbrellas or tents. Around mile 4 there was a big banner congratulating 3 men on reaching their 1,000th mile at Grandma’s Marathon. They had run the race for all 39 years it has been in existence. Pretty impressive. I would end up passing one of them later in the race, the back of his tank top proudly proclaiming “39” th Grandma’s and the “39” was pinned on and presumably replaced with a new number from year to year.
I forced myself to drink Powerade from the very first aid station. I’m convinced this made a big difference in how I felt by the end. Typically I prefer just to drink water because the Powerade is so sweet and I don’t love it. But I drank both. Every aid station began with tables labeled “Elite Men” “Elite Women” and they were filled with a collection of special water bottles labeled and left for the super-amazing professional runners. There were always a whole bunch of bottles left on the tables when I went through. I wondered what was in those bottles and what it tasted like. Victory, I imagine. Then each stop had an army of volunteers handing out cups and such the entire length of the stretch. On both sides of the road. The multiple tables were arranged like this: oodles of water, then Powerade, then ice, then soaked sponges, then more water, then first aid people. Each one was clearly labeled with signs for each item and they had huge helium balloons that you could see from well down the road. I didn’t think all of the aid stations would all be like that, but they were. I would like to know the number of volunteers just at the aid stations that day. Considering they started at mile 3, and were every 2 miles and then every mile after mile 20, it was amazing. No one was taking ice or sponges in those early miles, and it seemed almost comical to be so drenched and have someone head to toe in rain gear offering you a soaked, freezing sponge, but later on, even I took advantage of 2 of those icy cold sponges and they were heavenly.
Learning from my previous marathon mistakes, in addition to drinking Powerade early and often, I didn’t talk to anyone for pretty much the whole race, but particularly in those early miles. I did ask a guy in his Marathon Maniacs shirt how many this was for him, and the answer was 25. He asked me the same and I said “two”. Lame. And I mentioned that it had been 4 years and a baby since then and I basically felt like it was my first one. He said it didn’t matter how many you do, that he still tossed and turned the night before the race. At the time it was nice to know, but now that I’m thinking about it, that seems awful. Like it should get easier by your 25th marathon, right? I also saw a lady in a Scout Strong 2015 shirt, the one from the half marathon at the Kansas Speedway I did last month, and managed to say, “Hey, I have that shirt. Are you from Kansas City?” She was. I wished her good luck and that was pretty much the end of that. I tried not to waste any energy being a Chatty Kathy this time around. This was really tough for me. I wanted to know things about the people I was running with for several hours. In particular the guy who was running a minute or two and then walking a minute or two for the whole race and had a purple shirt that said “I run for my son”. I wondered who his son was and why he was running for him. And he kept his trash bag on for like 15 miles, which was incredible.
Every few miles there were 2 or 3 porta potties, all of which always had a line of people waiting to go. This is really the only area in terms of course management that could use improvement. There were men dashing off the road into the woods in droves every few minutes to take care of business. As I would run by the porta potty lines and see men standing there, I thought a couple things. 1. That dude must really have to poop. 2. What a nice rule follower who isn’t peeing in public. 3. What a jerk taking up a spot in line from a girl who has to go. Just go pee in the woods. We are literally surrounded by woods. Woods are everywhere. I held off my urge to pee, which started probably around mile 5.
The rain would come and go, sometimes sprinkles, sometimes heavier. Sometimes it would briefly stop altogether only to start right back up again. I think there was only one point around mile 10 when I wished I had a poncho again. This is the picture I dared to take my phone out for around mile 10.
10 miles in. Saturation: 100%. (The “Look at this shit” guys from the previous post are in the background of this one.)
The spectators were all bundled up and the temps stayed near 60 I would imagine. The route runs along Lake Superior, but you can’t see the lake the whole time. In fact, some years runners have hardly been able to see the lake due to fog/mist. So each time I could see the lake, it was a little treat, and wondering when the next bend would reveal water was a nice little mental game. Who are we kidding, that is not a game at all. That is stupid. Who thinks looking for the biggest body of fresh water in the world is a game? Apparently I do. But when you’re running a marathon, anything to pass the time will suffice. Here’s a picture I took of the lake. The first one is of the lake through a Ziplock baggie because I am not all that bright, but I feel like does a better job of capturing the sogginess of the experience.
A look at Lake Superior without a Ziplock bag. Pretty much the same thing.
A look at Lake Superior. With a Ziplock bag filter.
I also had some time to think of lots of insulting things about the scraggly ass pine trees in Duluth. They’re not nice, full, Christmasy pine trees when you get up close. They’re skinny, thin branched, border-line ugly pine trees, especially after you’ve seen them for hours in the car on the way up and then run alongside them for many miles. I didn’t even bother taking pictures of them. Here’s basically what I’m talking about though:
Scraggly, not so majestic pine trees. Duluth is lousy with them.
See, they’re ugly, right?
One of my favorite mental moments of the race was when I passed one of the many campgrounds along the route (not sure where, maybe mile 9?) and the smell of rained on early morning camp fire hit my nostrils and triggered within me a feeling that was so poignant that it’s difficult to accurately describe. It was the morning scent of nearly every summer weekend of my early childhood in Minnesota. That smoky, crisp smell of just a few glowing embers left in the fire pit, still hot despite the rain, was what I remember waking up to on so many mornings. It was glorious. It was the greatest thing I had smelled in ages. I could not get over how powerful it was. I just kept taking deep breaths, trying to hold onto it, and trying not to cry. I guess I really missed those days. Or maybe it was that I really missed those people. I don’t often feel transported by a scent, but this did the trick. I wish I could have taken some of that wet campfire with me. I tried to savor it as I ran past that little campground where some of the campers had made their way to the road to drink coffee or bloody Mary’s and watch us pass. So many things about camping in the rain are miserable. The smell of a rained on campfire is not one of them.
I knew some friends and family were tracking me throughout the race. The fact that people signed up to receive text messages about my progress was incredibly flattering. It also added some weird kind of pressure as I looked for the next timing mat to cross. Something about sending that electronic alert out made it feel like I was actually making progress, actually accomplishing something. Like I had to prove it to other people in order to really believe it was happening as I was doing it. I couldn’t remember the different checkpoints and for some reason I thought there was going to be one at 10k and then again at 10 miles, but there wasn’t one until 13.1 miles, so that was a bummer (they also showed up at mile 20 and 25, and then the finish, which really seems like a long time to make people wait for updates considering how slowly someone like me runs).
Around mile 13 I saw a bank of 3 porta potties with no line, and a girl had just exited one of them. I figured this was my best chance of a pee break without a line, so I dashed in and did my business. There was toilet paper and hand sanitizer and it wasn’t overly stinky. Score. I thought I had scored big and the potty gods had smiled upon me. If I had waited another 3 minutes, I would have reached the 13.1 mile mark and literally hundreds of porta potties. A sea of septic tanks. This is where they start the half marathon, a super-popular race that has a lottery system for entry and runs the second half of the marathon course. So there were enough potties to accommodate like 7,000 runners. In retrospect, the one I hit was maybe not as heavily hit as the ones in the potty oasis at the start line though.
Halfway (but not really)
I felt great at the halfway point. Sure, my feet were still soggy and so were my clothes, but I felt pretty solid, and I no longer had to pee. Always a plus. Every few miles the “look at this shit” guys would pass me, we would share our catch phrase and a smile/laugh, and then continue on, and then eventually I would catch up to them and pass them again, saying “look at this shit”, smile/laugh, repeat. Again, a super-fun game when you’re running a marathon. Even better than “spot the lake”. I remember thinking about how good I was feeling, when around mile 14 or 15 the rain stopped and the sun actually came out. Holy humidity, Batman. The sun was not a welcome sight. It was downright yucky. I took my hat off for awhile because I felt like no steam could escape my head (and yes, I thought about Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite). I took my longest walk break. I was seriously doubting my choice of long sleeves. I was doubting my decision not to wear any sunscreen. I was melting into a puddle of doubt and sweat. Damn you, mother nature. Make up your mind. Turns out she did. Because in the next couple miles it clouded over again, and the mist even returned, so it was just a random act of sunshine. Wheew.
I remember feeling hungry around mile 16 or so and I wasn’t ready to finish last few bites of my Clif bar already (I was having a few bites at a time every couple of aid stations). But once again, the aid station volunteers came through with some bananas just when I needed them. They had orange slices too, but I didn’t want to deal with sticky, orange juice fingers. I choked down most of a Clif Razz energy gel/goo at mile 17, thinking I might need the strawberry one I was carrying in my utility belt for later. I broke the cardinal rule of “nothing new on race day” with the raspberry flavor and my stomach handled it just fine. There were a couple people who created their own makeshift aid stations out in the wilderness, offering everything from coffee and Vaseline to bacon and Jolly Ranchers. I did eventually take some Vaseline (twice) from a guy in an Army uniform near a first aid tent and used it to try to hold off some of the inevitable sports bra chafing. It sort of worked. But Vaseline on the fingers is not an ideal feeling either when you don’t have a stitch of dry clothing on which to wipe that crud off. Also, trying to modestly maneuver Vaseline onto the areas where one needs Vaseline is an activity that can spice up the monotony of running for hours.
I’m not sure exactly when, but I realized a lady up ahead of me was carrying some soggy balloons on a stick. A pace group. I figured it must be like 5:20 or 5:15 since the last pace group I remembered seeing was 5:30. Nope. This was the 5:00 pace lady. Holy shit. I was running this thing faster than I thought I was going to. It had been hours since I’d seen the 5:30 group. I trotted right on by, just keeping my comfortable pace.
I knew that at around 18 miles we would be getting close to town again, and I was really looking forward to the spectators. I had gotten a few texts from friends who were cheering me on, but I needed some crowd energy. I think I built up that “crowd energy” a bit too much in my mind. There was not really any energy to speak of. There were finally a few turns in the road, and a few race photographers, which I did my best to smile pretty for, but energy? Not so much. Not a bunch of clever signs or garage bands or neighborhood block parties. I switched on my running playlist because I needed a boost. Yes, there were quite a few people out and about all things considered, but by the time we back of the packers started making our way through, I didn’t think the city had anything to brag about in terms of crowd support. I get that it was rainy and would have been a miserable day to be a spectator at a marathon (is that ever a fun thing?), so I’ll give them a pass. At mile 19 I took some preventative ibuprofen at a water stop. I also had another chunk of a banana.
Once I got to mile 20 I was thinking about how these next miles were the SACRED miles, the ones I had trained for, the ones only to be run with a race bib on. Speaking of which, people cannot have signs around mile 20 that say things like “You’re almost there.” Seriously, stop it. We are not almost there. The race is just starting at that point. At mile 20 the signs should say, “You’re halfway there.” or “Brace yourself.” or “The only way to make it stop is to finish.” For us ten-plus minute milers, mile 20 means we still have over an hour to go. You should, however, feel free to put your collection of troll dolls to good use and line the street in front of your house with like 50 of them as seen in this little gem from somewhere around mile 20. (I really loved troll dolls as a kid, so I had to stop and take a picture. I don’t remember what their signs said.)
A gutter full of troll dolls was such a hilarious sight after running 20 miles.
The Real Halfway
Around mile 20 was when I couldn’t ignore my sore feet anymore. I kept trying not to think about it, but it felt like I was running on a really stinging, popped blister on my right foot. I tried not to let it alter my stride too much. It was tolerable, but not ideal. Had I known the situation that was brewing under my socks, I would not have been able to finish. I had a couple pretzels, not necessarily because I needed or wanted them, but because I hat toted them all this way and figured a little salty boost might help.
I sent Dan a text that said “21” and was getting mentally prepared for the famous Lemon Drop Hill I had read about that I knew would pop up around mile 22. During training I had practiced picturing myself running up Lemon Drop Hill. I kept telling myself that I was going to attack it, and I wasn’t going to walk up that hill. Well, guess what. (What?) Lemon Drop Hill isn’t really a hill at all. Not by my neighborhood standards. It was an incline really. A pitiful little thing. Like a freeway on-ramp, and when I realized half way up this slight slope that this was in fact the monster hill I had been having anxiety about, I almost laughed out loud. You call this a hill? No way. I eat hills like this for breakfast…or something like that. I didn’t really have time to think up an insult for the hill. I sped up as I climbed. I actually did laugh out loud when I blew by the “look at this shit” guys, who were walking up the hill and I could tell by looking at them that they were not going to catch me again. They even said, “look at you!” Yes. Look at me, indeed.
After that I was just a running machine. Maybe it was the ibuprofen kicking in, or the fact that it was pretty much downhill from there, or that I was on cobblestone streets, which signaled I was closer to the finish, or that I knew Dan and my Uncle Paul were waiting at mile 24, but I just started cruising. From mile 22 to the finish I ran my fastest miles, one of which was like a 9:30 or something, blazing speed I tell you! It’s a shame I was in such a beast mode because some of the more entertaining things were happening on the course during those miles. We ran by the hotels where most of the marathoners were staying, there were more people cheering, we were getting closer to downtown. People were stopping for shots at one of the bars that had moved its high top tables over to the roadside, and I watched a 70 year-old man get coaxed over to a beer funnel by a pack of frat boys and he chugged the whole thing! There were ladies doing Zumba in a gas station parking lot, and less in-shape ladies belly dancing in the street. There were high school bands and cheer squads, and cute kids with posters waiting to give high fives. It was all very festive, and I didn’t really care because I was a running machine. At least as much of a running machine as one can be doing 10 to 11 minute miles.For the first time I started to think about my finish time, and I thought, “I’m going to finish this sucker under five hours.” No shit, Sherlock. You passed the five hour pace group like a half hour ago. That wasn’t computing for me at the time though.
I finally got to see Dan and my uncle around mile 24. He had texted me which street corner they were going to be at, and knowing that somehow made those miles seem longer. I was excited to see the sign Dan made. It had taken me a superhuman act of willpower not to peek at it. He had lovingly made it in our basement on florescent green poster board and then wrapped in saran wrap to protect it from the rain. It was in the car when I was packing up and I didn’t look at it even though I desperately wanted to. I wanted to have that moment when I saw it on the course. I’m glad I waited. You kind of have to know our kid and the scripted potty training language he likes to use, but it was super sweet. After Otto poops we always say, “I’m so proud of you!” and then he repeats it back in his tiny, excited little voice.
“I’m so proud of you!”
I felt awful that I barely said hi and gave high fives to Dan and my Uncle Paul before busting it to the finish. My uncle drove like 3 hours over to Duluth that morning in the pouring rain, I’m sure battled for parking, then had to plan out a viewing spot, make contact with Dan and spend hours in the rain watching people run by, just to see me for 30 seconds. It was really cool of him to do that. My cousin Jenny and her husband Phil came down to the course too, but they just missed me. Drat. It reminded me of how much I appreciated my friends and my parents coming to watch me up in Fargo (big blog shoutout once again to Mom, Dad, Jess, Tara, and Zane for that crazy day). And I did take a moment to think about how lucky I was to have so many supportive people in my life. I was really trying to run with gratitude.
Those last couple of miles were amazing. The good songs were coming up on my playlist, including “I Really Like You” by Carly Rae Jepsen, “Work, B*tch” by Britney Spears, “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, and Katy Perry’s “Roar”. I saw the timing mat for mile 25 and I think the clock next to it said 4:45. I remember thinking, I can run this last mile in under 15 minutes with no problem and I really will finish a marathon under 5 hours. This is awesome! I also realized I actually had more time than that because the clock was displaying gun time (official race start time) rather than my chip time, and I knew I hadn’t crossed the start line for several minutes after the gun. I could walk to the finish and still finish under five hours. But then I was worried about jinxing myself, so I kept saying, “don’t think about the time, just run.” I wanted to finish to my favorite marathon training song, so I fumbled with my phone to find “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. The last mile is a bunch of twists and turns, each one more annoying than the last. Just show me the damn finish line! At last there it was. Balloons and stands full of people, and a real, live finishing chute. I was doing it. I could finally stop moving and take my shoes off! Victory! Official finishing time: 4:48:53. I was 4,807th out of 6,077 people and averaged an 11:02 pace. Solidly representing the back of the pack, but finishing 53 minutes faster than my 2011 Fargo time. The most important thing was that I didn’t need medical attention at any point throughout the day and that I felt amazing.
The Glorious Aftermath
You don’t just get to stop moving after finishing a marathon. Oh, no. You get your medal and then have to walk all the way through the finishing area. I saw Dan on the corner right after the finish line, beer in hand, and I made him take a selife of us and send it to my parents.
Then I kept walking to get a bottle of water, walked to the tent to get my finisher shirt and drink ticket, where again I was confronted with the dilemma of picking the proper shirt size given the women’s cut. I had to get this right because I plan on wearing this sucker EVERYWHERE (and I never wear my Fargo one because it’s too small). Seriously shirt people, get it together. I understand that most runners are of the tiny sort, but I just don’t think I should need an extra large. That just takes me down a peg in my moment of glory, and must make the people who typically get an extra large feel crappy when they have to get a double XL after they just ran a freaking marathon! I guess I could have gone to the men’s tent instead, but again, why must I be thinking of my body size/shape/weirdness/lareness mere moments after it carried me 26.2 miles? Anyway, I got my XL shirt (the right choice) and then I walked over to get a carnation, and then walked over to a nice old man who wrapped me in a mylar blanket, and then walked over to the gear check areas to get my bag. These were organized with all the men’s tables first, and the women’s tables even farther away. And my bib number was 9200 something, which of course meant that my gear was literally in the farthest area from the finish line. I painfully plopped down on the pavement eager to get my shoes off and assess the damage. What I saw was horrifying. It also horrified the girl sitting next to me who said she was too scared to take off her own shoes. I will just let the photo speak for itself.
Blisters on blisters on blisters.
Yep. There are layers of blisters there, my friends. And on both feet. The “Blister Tent” (yes, it was labeled as such) was full of people being assisted by first aid workers and had a line 3 or 4 deep waiting to get inside, and it was raining again, so I made my way to find some food and find Dan. I knew that sometimes people dipped their legs in the soothing cold waters of Lake Superior after the race because the finish is so close to the shore. But it was still a pretty decent walk out of the finisher area and then around to the water, and I just couldn’t muster up the energy to make it to the lake to have that moment. I probably should have. Oh, well. I had a dry blueberry bagel, some peanut butter on a spoon (that I managed to get all over my white carnation), a mini salted nut roll (of which I could have eaten a million but the person passing them out was being kind of stingy about doling them out one at a time). All of the beautiful fruit they had out just wasn’t appealing to me at all. I wanted salty, carby, starchy stuff. I had a volunteer who was helping with all the recycling take a picture of me with the lift bridge in the background and it ended up being one of my favorites from the whole weekend.
A great day at Grandma’s.
I found Dan, drinking another celebratory beer, this time in a commemorative cup, near Grandma’s Saloon. He said he had just seen the shuttle for our hotel in the area and I figured if they were only running on the hour, we should hurry up and catch it. Sure enough, I saw it cruise by and we were like 2 blocks from the pick-up point.
26.2 festive ounces of beer.
So Dan is toting this obnoxious beer, I’m loaded down with gear, wrapped in my Superman cape, and running two blocks in flip flops in the rain to catch the shuttle bus. I’m yelling at Dan to move his ass because I don’t want to wait another hour down here in the rain with this mob of people until another one comes by. We ran up on it just as it was pulling away, knocked on the door, and were let on. Hallelujah! I called my Uncle Paul to tell him we were headed back to the hotel and we never were able to meet back up that day. I made Dan take some more post-race pictures back in the room before I hobbled to the shower and changed into my extra large finisher shirt.
The all-important race sticker for my car.
My Grandma’s Superman cape, lovingly presented to me with a hug from an old man at the finish.
It was probably 2:00 when we both settled in for a nap. I couldn’t really sleep because my legs were doing all sorts of twitchy weird things and my blisters were killing me. I eventually ended up popping the big angry one and would continue to do so for the following few days. There was layer upon layer of fluid in those suckers. It was disgustingly satisfying to pop and drain my blisters. Sort of like peeling a sunburn I suppose, which I also enjoy doing.
We headed back to downtown on the 5:00 p.m. shuttle and I joined the other hobbling warriors who were trying to make our way around to find food and merriment. We hit up Grandma’s, because, it was Grandma’s Marathon after all, and we’d never eaten at one. As we waited for a table I found an amazing long sleeved marathon t-shirt for the bargain price of $20, so I was elated that we had chosen that place to eat. I wanted something greasy and salty and I wanted a big beer of my own. Done and done. A big Blue Moon, an appetizer of ranch fries, followed by a chicken pot pie and couple of bites of Dan’s burger did just the trick.
Recovering at Grandma’s Saloon.
I shouldn’t have had the second big Blue Moon though as it just made me sleepy and sluggish. We talked about maybe going to a movie or trying to find something else to do since it was so early, but I was feeling old, tired and lame. I didn’t want to drink any more, nor did I want to pay a cover to sit out in the cold to watch live music. We strolled around some local shops, looking for a souvenir for Otto, and stopped in at another candy store for some treats that I didn’t even feel like eating. We made it until about 8:00 p.m. at which point I didn’t care how lame I was, I really just wanted to catch a shuttle back to the hotel, lie in bed, and scroll through my Facebook feed. So that’s what we did. Also, I didn’t get credit on my Fitbit for any of my marathon steps because I didn’t want to get it wet, so I didn’t wear it during the race.
The next morning the local papers had a lot of nice marathon write-ups and feature stories and they even published everybody’s name who ran the half and the full. We enjoyed our hotel breakfast, coffee on our little balcony, and of course it was an absolutely perfect, beautiful morning on the day we had to leave. We departed for Minneapolis about 10:00 a.m. and Dan flew home to KC leaving me with the car so I could attend an AP Summer Institute at Augsburg College that week. I used the Siri on my iphone for the first time ever and had her guide me to the nearest Chipotle restaurant for my post-race guacamole fix. It was glorious. (It was also the only Chipotle I’ve ever been to that had an all-white staff.) I stayed with my friend Tara in Eden Prairie all week and I even found myself shoving my swollen, blistered, black toenailed feet back into my running shoes on Wednesday and Thursday morning at 5:00 a.m. for nice little 3 mile runs with her. It made me seriously consider running with people more often and seriously jealous of the great running and biking trails all over the Minneapolis area.
It’s official. My name in print.
Overall, it was a wonderful race experience and left me open to the possibility of running another full marathon. I didn’t feel like I wanted to die or murder anyone at any point during or after the race. I didn’t have any moments where I thought I was going to poop my pants. There were stretches that really kind of sucked, and some times I didn’t feel all that great. But I did a much better job of fueling and conserving energy, and plus I’ve just been a runner for much longer this time around, so I kind of knew what to expect. My training this time around was really relaxed and did not consist of a ton of mileage. In fact, most weeks I ran about 5 miles on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and then held the weekend long run sacred. And that was it. Three days a week. That was just what I needed to get the job done. I’m really proud of myself and excited to be able to stay in the house when it rains from now on.
It has probably taken you as long to read this post as it took me to run that marathon, so if you made it this far, you deserve a medal too. And thank you for caring enough to peruse my musings.
Oh, and here’s a link to some really unflattering and pretty badass pictures of me from the marathon course.