Sunday, June 21, 2015

Race Report: Grandma's Marathon, June 20, 2015.

I ran Grandma’s Marathon yesterday, finishing in a time of 3:13:36.  Not horrible, though not what I was hoping to run.

[writer's note - upon rereading this, I realize it has at least 5 typos.  I wrote this on the plane after a night of insomnia - I'll go through it and correct all the typos after I get a good night's sleep.]

The weekend was not without misadventure.  It all started with my trip to Duluth on Thursday morning.  I had booked myself on the 7:10 am flight from National Airport to O’Hare in Chicago, where I’d have an hour to grab my connecting flight to Duluth.  A little tight on time, since I’d have to swap terminals in Chicago, but doable.  And since these were morning flights, I wasn’t too worried about delays from thunderstorms or other issues that tend to snowball through the day.  I had also pre-shipped most of my stuff via UPS, so I was just traveling with a backpack, which would make everything easier.

Everything was going smoothly as we pulled away from the gate and waited in line for take off.  And then the Captain came onto the intercom and sighed.  (never a good sign).  O’Hare was under a ground stop, and so we couldn’t take off until the stop was lifted.  But no worries – the ground hold would delay our connections as well.  Feel free to use your cell phones.   And here’s some free Direct TV and snacks.

I did some quick checking on my cell phone app, and noted that my departing flight to Duluth was already on the ground at O’Hare, meaning that it could leave as soon as the ground hold was lifted – it would very likely depart while I was in the air from DC.

So, I needed to change flights.  I could see that there was also a 12:30 pm, a 4:30 pm, and a 10:30 pm flight, each with seats available.  But my app wouldn’t book them for me, since it was under the impression that my Chicago flight was on time.  So I called the United phone line.

I waited for approximately 30 minutes (my seatmate timed it) before an agent picked up.  He didn’t seem like the brightest bulb, but he was what I had to work with.  I explained my situation and asked him to put me on the next flight to Duluth, since I was going to miss the 9:14 am.  

There was what seemed like an endless amount of clicking, and then he chirped proudly that I was now on the 10:30 pm flight.  In a bit of shock, I noted that I could see seats free on earlier flights – could he please place me on one of those.   He expressed some surprise that I wanted an earlier flight (really?  Who wants to spend over 12 hours in O’Hare), but when I was insistent, he agreed, and grudgingly placed me on the 4:30.  It wasn’t the 12:30 that I wanted, but at least I’d get in at a reasonable time.

Finally, after about 90 minutes on the tarmac, O’Hare was reopened, and we took off.  When we landed, I proceeded directly to the gate, spoke with a considerably brighter bulb, and got swapped onto the 12:30 pm flight.  This means that I managed, within the space of 3 hours, to have been booked on all four flights between O’Hare and Duluth that day (though not simultaneously). 


The delays meant that I’d also have to eat lunch at O’Hare airport.  Normally not an issue, but I was carb-loading.  It’s pretty easy to carb-load at O’Hare, and pretty easy to eat gluten-free at O’Hare (I’ve spent WAY TOO much time in that airport over the year), but doing both is tricky.  If you want to go gluten-free at O’Hare, you’re getting a salad of some sort.

The answer?  I hit the Chinese place at the food court and ordered side orders of white rice.  Perfect.


My 12:30 flight to Duluth (which in reality was a 1:30 – I adore O’Hare) finally landed in Duluth around 3 pm local time.  4 hours later than planned, but I was here.  (these travel adventures, BTW, are why I try NEVER to travel the day before a marathon, and also never check luggage).  I was rewarded for my trials with an unexpected upgrade to a black Jeep Grand Cherokee by Avis.  As I noted on Facebook, Avis has their customer profiling down.  I stopped by the UPS store to pick up my “pre-shipped luggage,” and the grocery store to grab food, and then checked in to my accommodations – a dormitory room at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

From then, the pre-race weekend went smoothly.  Bib pick-up, and lunch and dinner with friends.  The one concern was the weather.  For most of the week, the weather had been great, but a front was supposed to come through on Saturday.   The front included potential thunderstorms, with the concern that lightning on the course would cancel the race.  Not great, but all we could do was wait and see.
Accuweather as of 5 am race morning.

The race didn’t start until 7:45 am, but as a point to point race, the runners had to be transported to the start.  Shuttles were running from the dorms to the start of the race between 5:45 and 6:15, and so I hopped on the first one.  I knew I’d be there early, but I prefer early to rushed, and I figured there’d be some sort of sheltered area to stretch, finish breakfast, etc.

The trip to the start was entirely consistent with my other transit difficulties.  The bus driver didn’t understand that there were two races – a half and a full, with two different starting points.  She was driving a bus backed with full marathoners, but took the turn towards the half-marathon starting point.  Some of us (including myself) were completely oblivious to this, but fortunately others were familiar with the course and started correcting her.  Cue an argument back and forth between the bus driver and passengers about where the bus was supposed to go.  Fortunately, the passengers won, and we got to the start without further incident.


I had assumed there’d be some sort of runner’s village when I arrived, but there really wasn’t much except for a medical tent, bag check, an elite tent, and porta-potties.  And it was also a bit colder than forecast.  That was good for the race, but my cheap “Little Mermaid” sweater wasn’t cutting the low fifties/high forties temperature.  I had brought tights to wear after the race, socks for my hands, and two trash bags, so I donned them all and huddled on the ground.  And deeply regretted my choice to get to the race start 90 minutes early.

And then it started to rain.  And then it started to POUR.  The trash bags were doing no good.  I did note that some smart runners had purchased cheap umbrellas – mental note to do that next time.  Huddling on the ground wasn’t keeping me warm, so I stood up and jumped into a long portajohn line, moving back and forth from one foot to another, and trying not to shiver too much.


Strangely (but again, consistent with one of the themes of the weekend), my portajohn line was moving very slowly – far more slowly than the others, it seemed.  After about 20 minutes, when I was closer to the front, I began to watch the johns intently (I really had nothing better to do).  Of the two johns assigned to our line, only one seemed to be consistently opening and closing.  I asked the person ahead of me to hold my place, and I walked up and rapped on the door of the second portajohn.

Almost instantly, a man jumped out.  He was completely dry, despite the fact that it was still pouring.  He had been using the john as his own personal storm shelter the entire time.  Redfaced, he exited the area as quickly as he could to a loud chorus of boos.


After emptying my excess hydration, I made my way to the start.  I was completely waterlogged and shivering, with water squishing and seeping from my running shoes with each step.  Lovely.  But at least I had used bodyglide everywhere, and triple knotted my shoelaces.  With a few minutes until the start, I dumped all my throwaway clothes.  I had planned to wear the sweater and the handsocks for the first few miles before tossing, but they were so waterlogged that they would do more harm than good.


Then finally, the rain eased up, and the horn went off.  I shuffled up to the start and punched start.  And deliberately held a VERY controlled pace for the first mile.  It wasn’t just that I was trying to start conservatively, but also that I was really stiff and cold, and I really needed to get blood moving before I could even think about picking it up.  After about a mile, I felt a bit better, and upped my effort to what felt like a very controlled pace.  It definitely felt like I was running too slow and too easy, which was exactly what I wanted for the first half of the race.  My plan was to come through the halfway point feeling very good and a bit too slow, and then start working my way down.


The course itself was a fun one – gently rolling up and downhills, which added a nice bit of variety for the legs.  The road did have a bit of a camber to it, as well as some curves.  Running the exact tangents meant a lot of running on slanted pavement, which was killing my hips.  So I decided that level pavement was the lesser of two evils, and ran a wider path.


And so I ran on, eating and drinking.  I hit the half feeling very good, and picked up the effort to something that felt a bit harder, but still controlled.  And grinned about how good I felt and what a great race this was going to be.

That lasted for a few miles, and then my quads started to get sore.  Uh-oh.  On the other hand, I had made it 10 miles at Philly before my quads completely failed on me, and I only had 10.21 miles to go here.  So not that worrisome.  I just started focusing more on staying relaxed, and really using my glutes rather than my quads.

Things just got tougher, though.  To me, for the first 20-22 miles, marathon pace should feel like you could go faster if someone held a gun to your head – you're working, but not giving everything you have, not yet. But I was maxed out and my legs were locked.  It was what it was – I just focused on moving forward.

In retrospect, I think I got so focused on my form and holding things together that I neglected my nutrition and drinking for the last several miles.  My gel strategy is not based around a particular schedule, but rather about always having one in my hand, and slurping from it regularly.  Post race, when people were talking about their gel consumption, I realized I had only consumed 3 – far too few (and I was carrying many more with me).  It wasn’t from intentionally holding off, but just that I was too distracted by other things once I started hurting.  I was so focused on just holding my form together that I completely ignored everything else.  But it unquestionably made things worse, and is a lesson to learn for next time.  Whatever happens, stay on top of the eating and drinking.

From there on it was the story that so many other know so well – one leg in front of the other – get to the finish.  It wasn’t fun, and I know from previous experience that marathons don’t need to feel that way.  But I got it done, albeit not in the time I had hoped for.  And I learned a bit more about the marathon.


I’m an overanalyzer by nature, and so I want to (mostly) resist that urge to do that now.  I need to give myself a week or two of mental and physical down time before working with my coach to figure out what could be improved.   

But... (watch me do it anyway) my initial sense is that my shortened training cycle really wasn’t enough to prep me.  As background, I only really started training for this in April, with a ten week training cycle with two twenty milers.   It was an experiment - to see how I'd do with fairly high mileage but a minimal number of long runs and more recovery.  And....I felt great during most of the training cycle, but didn't have the necessary strength to go 26 on race day (though neglecting my nutrition in the last part of the race didn't help either).

So now I know.  And I'm actually fine with it.  Part of trying different things is accepting that you may not get the answer you expected or hoped for.

And in case you haven't guessed, I now really want to do a fall marathon.


Splits are here - I took manual, so they show both my actual split at the mile marker, and the distance my Garmin thinks I ran at that point (I trust the mile markers more, plus I wasn't running the tangents):

Some of the early splits are a bit faster than they felt, but I think that's because those miles were net downhills.  I also had a downhill assist late in the race, which made some of the post 18 mile splits look better than they were.

These splits also make me pretty happy I go out conservatively, targeting a negative split by feel, and pace by feel, rather than a watch.  Though it wasn't my day, I think I would have had a much worse day if I had either gone out harder or been chasing specific numbers on the watch.  Pacing the race the way I did enabled me to salvage a decent race.

Other stuff:
  • Though the pre-race conditions were nasty, it wasn't bad at all during the race.  Weather underground says that it was mid-40s at the start, and 60 degrees when we finished.  Not bad at all.  We lucked out.
  • My teammates both had AWESOME races.  That's Susanna on the left, who hit the US Olympic Trials A Standard in her first marathon!  And Marjorie in the center, who set a massive 7+ minute PR! (clearly, some great coaching).  It was really cool to be a part of that.
  • As I mentioned above, I stayed in the dorms, which were nice, if spartan.  They do have some limitations - shared showers, no A/C, no television, and only an overhead light.  But for $100 a night, they were a great alternative to a hotel.
  • However, if I had to do it again, I would NOT have relied on the dormitory shuttles to and from the race. I would rather drive to the finish, leave my car there, and take a train to the start.  For one thing, it's my understand that those who took the train were allowed to stay in it for some time, rather than waiting outside in the cold.  Also, it was about impossible to find the bus back to the dorms post-race.  They were very far from the finish, and not clearly marked.  When I finally found the buses, I had to hobble to each one to ask where it was going - they lacked the external signs that had been promised.
  • One benefit of walking for at least a mile and a half post-race, my legs are much better after this marathon than the previous two.  They're sore, but I'm not crippled.  While spending an hour trying to find the bus post-race was really miserable at the time, it had a silver lining.
  • Despite starting the race completely soaked, I finished with no blisters and only one minor bit of chafing.  That was a victory in itself.
  • Carried a water bottle with me, and stopped at water stations as needed to refill it.  I can't drink from cups while running, but this seems to work well.
  • As I mentioned above, I pre-shipped myself a care package (had it delivered to a local UPS store in Duluth, where they held it for me).  Shipping myself a care package cost less than checking luggage with United, and saved me the trouble of dealing with luggage at the airport (or luggage that didn't switch flights with me).


  1. Miserable conditions, but good race. And I can't believe you didn't chafe!

  2. Congrats! I finally had the time to focus on reading this. There's a lot to comment on! First of all, those travel issues sound night-marish but since it wasn't the day before the race, it didn't impact you other than annoy you. In terms of your actual race, I think you ran really smart. You had a plan, you executed it, and you keep pushing throughout. I wouldn't be so quick to blame the 10-week cycle. Your mileage is consistently high so even though you hadn't been specifically marathon training, you were still running quite a bit. I think you were really well trained, and perhaps the taper wasn't enough to get the lingering soreness out of the quads. Maybe the humidity took more out of you than you realized. But regardless, you ran it really well and your time is amazing!

  3. So sorry it wasn't your day, either! I realize this was not the point of your post but I stayed in the dorms too. The shuttles were okay for me, but I stayed at the University of Wisconsin. Somehow we had charter busses but I saw everyone else had school busses!! My husband picked me up at the finish but you are so right - they were nowhere in sight. Hope you have a great fall season ahead!