Let’s just get this out there, for those of you who don’t know me or who haven’t been following me on social media (and why the heck haven’t you, BTW?): I didn’t train for this race. Now for those of you who do know me, that comes as no surprise. In fact, I pretty much haven’t trained for any of my races. But this time around I was really bad. And by really bad, I mean logging less than 50 miles in the four months leading up to the race, with most of those miles being walking. And so as we tell our kids, my advice to you is this: “Do as I say, not as I do“. I would not recommend embarking on any endurance event without proper training! And yet, I finished. And in fact, this wasn’t even my slowest race. Grandma’s was my seventh marathon in the past five years and depending on how you look at it, it was either my fifth fastest, or my third slowest time. Glass half empty, glass half full, right?
My son Mark and I signed up for the race on December 31st of last year, the last day to register and get a free fleece-lined, full-zip jacket. These beautiful jackets arrived back in February, though we dared not wear them until race weekend. I also received 10% off of my registration fee for being a Marathon Maniac. What can I say–I can’t pass up a bargain! And with the race not being held until the middle of June, I’d have plenty of time to train, right? Right… I’ll spare you all the
excuses details about why I didn’t train, but race weekend came and once again, I wasn’t prepared, yet once again, I wasn’t deterred!
We had a flight out of Chicago into Duluth late on Thursday evening. It seemed everyone on our flight would be running Grandma’s but as my husband noted, who the hell else would be flying to Duluth on a Thursday evening??? (Calm down, Duluthians, I found your town to be absolutely lovely!) We arrived at our hotel at around midnight, and quickly fell into deep sleeps. We awoke on Friday morning and went out to explore the town. It was a gray day with storms predicted throughout the weekend, so we were constantly on weather watch. Part of the race would be re-routed this year due to construction in the area. Still, we looked forward to a scenic race along the beautiful coast of Lake Superior. We found a spot for breakfast, then headed over to the expo for packet pickup.
The expo was held just a few blocks from our hotel, at Paulucci Hall at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Downtown Duluth. The expo was very nice and of considerable size. There were lots of exhibitors, with packet pick-up at the back of the hall. We picked up our race packets which included our bibs and a few other things, but surprisingly, no race shirts. We found out later that finishers would receive their shirts at the finish line after being awarded their medals.
Once we picked up our packets, we were directed to have our bibs checked to make sure our timing devices were working and were properly assigned to our names. What a great idea! It was a very quick and simple process (it literally took seconds to complete), and I can imagine more and more races will be employing this simple step in the future. We navigated the expo and purchased our tickets for the pre-race all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner, then headed back out to explore the town. Duluth is a quaint little town with lots of small restaurants and specialty shops. We passed Grandma’s Restaurant, for which the marathon was originally named. We stopped at a few places, but decided to head back to our hotel as the sky darkened and severe thunderstorms loomed in the distant sky.
We got back to the hotel just as the skies opened up, and were surprised to find a hospitality room open to all runners, complete with lots of snacks, drinks, and even wine and beer! We grabbed a few snacks and chatted with the volunteers for a little while, then headed back to our room for a much-needed nap. We would have a very early start the next morning, and wanted to get as much rest as possible.
We headed back to the expo at around 6:30 p.m. for our all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner. It was absolutely delicious, and we definitely ate too much! We met some other runners and chatted it up for a while. We met a very nice young couple from Boston, who had run Berlin last year. Since I will be running it this year, they gave me lots of great tips, including the name of a German restaurant that I am very much looking forward to trying. We wished each other luck for the race and parted ways, bellies full and beyond carb-loaded.
We were on constant weather-watch as the predictions for storms kept changing. By the time we fell asleep just before midnight, the report was not looking good. I have to admit, a small (but not too small) part of me secretly wished the race would be cancelled. I knew it wouldn’t be cancelled unless there was lightning, but having never run in the rain, I didn’t know if I could do it for 26.2 very slow miles. I rolled over at around 2:00 a.m. and checked again, and the predictions changed to 40% chance of storms. Was I happy or sad to see this change? I rolled over and fell back asleep without giving it another thought.
We woke up just after 4:00 a.m. because we wanted to catch the train to the start, and we heard we would have to get there by 4:30 a.m. to get a seat on the train. We arrived at the pickup spot at around 4:45 a.m., and were among the first to board. There were a few luxury cars and since we were some of the first to arrive, we snagged some comfy seats for the almost one-hour ride to the starting area. We arrived at the start at about 7:15 a.m., and with the race starting in 30 minutes, we immediately made our way to the very long lines at the porta-potties. The wait was so long, we had someone snap a picture of us, and then my son bailed so he could get to his starting area. I, on the other hand, decided to wait it out, and finally made my way to the front of the line just minutes before the race started.
The temperatures were in the 50s, with humidity in the 90s, but luckily no rain was in the forecast at that point. I dumped the rain ponchos I bought for us, a decision I would later regret. There was a very heavy fog throughout most of the race, and the air was very damp and heavy. Though most of the course ran along the lakefront, there was very poor visibility until I reached mile 15. Not having trained, I knew I would be very slow, but I joined the 5:30 pace group with the plan to keep up with them for at least the first five miles. With a generous seven-hour course time limit, I never doubted I would finish this race. I started with the pace group and met a very nice woman named Sarah. We chatted for the first three or so miles, which was a bit difficult for me (did I mention I didn’t train?), so I slowed to a walk and said I would try to catch up in a few minutes. I met a young couple in their 20s, who said they also had not trained and had never even done a 5K. My kind of people! They were happy to know they weren’t the only ones crazy enough to jump into a marathon unprepared, but of course they also had youth on their side! I caught up with Sarah and the pace group, and to my surprise, I kept up with them until about 7.5 miles. I was getting winded the more I tried to chat, so I once again slowed to a walk. I kept the pace group within view, but by mile nine I lost sight of them and knew I would be on my own for the rest of the race. I walked with the young couple for about a half mile, then started my own version of run/walk intervals.
The air remained cool, heavy, and damp, and by mile 10 I was starting to get cold. The breeze started to pick up off the lake, and by the time I hit mile 12, it started to rain. Super. It rained for the next mile, so by mile 13 I was completely wet and completely cold. About a mile up the road I picked up someone’s throwaway zip-up hoodie, which was thankfully dry. I wore it for about a mile, which really helped. I kept up with my run/walk intervals (really more like walk/run intervals at this point) until about mile 20, then decided I would pretty much walk the rest of the way. I stopped at porta-potties at miles 14 and 22, and filled my handheld at water stops a couple of times along the way.
Somewhere along the route there was a small polka band playing, so of course I had to stop and polka for a few seconds. I gratefully accepted a chunk of banana at around mile 17, but besides that, I relied on my Tailwind in my handheld to carry me through the race. There was a pretty good uphill at around mile 22, by which time I was pretty cashed. I told my son I would text him when I had four miles to go, but decided to wait until I got closer to the finish. I texted him at mile 24 to let him know I had two miles to go. He of course had already finished the race, showered at the hotel, and was at Famous Dave’s having lunch with his friend Andrew, who drove in from Minneapolis to see him race.
At mile 25 there was a couple playing Cotton Eyed Joe on their banjos, and I gave them a good laugh when I stopped to dance (did you know there’s a dance called The Cotton Eyed Joe? Or that I used to enter country dance contests back in the day? But I digress…) I thought I would run a little more in the final mile, but I decided to wait until the very end. There was really no point in trying to kill myself to cut a few minutes off of my time. I of course ran it in for the final quarter mile – gotta make it look good for the photo at the finish! I ran through the finish, accepted my medal, then picked up my finisher’s shirt and beer ticket. I made my way to the beer tent and met up with Mark and Andrew, and was thrilled to learn that Mark not only made, but beat his goal and came in at 3:32:18 (a 13-minute PR!). We snapped a few photos, drank our beers, then headed back to the hotel so I could shower and we could all nap.
That night, we began what would become a (well-deserved) 24-hour eating frenzy! We went to Bellisio’s Italian Restaurant for dinner, then to Dairy Queen for ice cream. By 9:30 p.m. I was ready for bed! I headed back to the hotel, while Mark and Andrew went bowling, of all things! We awoke at around 7:00 a.m. on Sunday. Andrew headed back to Minneapolis, and Mark and I headed out to breakfast. We found a place called Loui’s Cafe, and in honor of Father’s Day (and my late father, Louis), we decided that would be the place to go! We had an excellent breakfast and by the time we left, there was a long line outside, so we were happy to have gotten an early start.
We drove northeast along the coast, retracing our steps retrograde from the race finish to the start. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, so we were able to see the beautiful lake views that we missed because of the foggy race conditions. We headed further northeast to Gooseberry Falls State Park, and enjoyed the beautiful views along the raging river.
Just as we headed back to the car, the sky darkened and it started to pour. We drove back to the hotel in the pouring rain, grateful to have circumvented the storm once again. We had scheduled a 3:00 p.m. late checkout, so we relaxed in our room, then packed our bags and went out for a late lunch/early dinner. It was still pouring outside, but the rain slowed just enough for us to run from our car into the restaurant. We decided on OMC (Oink-Moo-Cluck) Smokehouse, on the Instagram advice of our new runner friends from Boston. It did not disappoint! We enjoyed the dried pork rinds with their delicious homemade chipotle-cilantro barbeque sauce.
We then pigged out (pun intended) on our respective pork sandwiches (Mark had the Korean BBQ pork belly sandwich, and I had the spicy Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah pulled pork with pepperjack cheese and pickled jalapenos) and beef fat fries, nicely paired with beers from the local Bent Paddle Brewing Company. Needless to say, our bellies were full! Finally, we headed to the airport only to find that our flight was delayed. Luckily it was just by an hour, but it was almost midnight by the time I got home.
Hell, yeah, this was a very long post! But 26.2 miles is a very long race. And hell, yeah, I got it done! What a fantastic weekend we had — me, just for making it out alive, and Mark, for hitting such an amazing PR! I’m so happy we’ve had these opportunities to run marathons together. As long as I can keep moving, we’ll have many more fun weekends like this one!
Have you ever run Grandma’s Marathon? What was your favorite part of the race? Any big races coming up for you this year?