I had my last LONG training run for the upcoming Twin Cities Marathon yesterday. Marathon day is three weeks from today. 21 days. That’s not very many! I should probably be scared out of my running shorts, but I’m not. I’m ready. Bring it on.
The final 20 mile run is somewhat of a rite of passage for runners training for a marathon. Some training programs, especially those for first time marathoners, work you up to ONE all-important 20 mile run. Other training programs sprinkle in more 20 milers (not too many, of course!). Last time around (2 years ago), I did two 20 milers. This time around, my training plan had called for 5 of the big kahunas. I worked up to 17.5 miles by week 4, then Achilles tendinitis had other plans for me…cross off those 20 milers while I dialed back the pace and the mileage. I would do two 20 milers this year too. Just like last time. Only hopefully I’d end up besting my time from last time. We’ll see about that.
I had seven amazing women to run with yesterday morning. They’re all my Moms on the Run running buddies, and out of the 8 of us, 5 are rookie marathoners…looking at that kind of ridiculous mileage to be undertaken on foot…for the first time. Attitudes were a little anxious, but definitely positive, as we set out at sunrise from Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.
We started at Mile 6 of the Twin Cities Marathon course, and although it would take us a little past our mileage (should be 20.2 if we start at Mile 6, right?), that was all right. Actually, our route did differ slightly from the Twin Cities Marathon course, as we’ll be running roads on race day, but we stuck to trails and sidewalks yesterday. I had the route plotted on my phone and I was in charge of leading everyone down the right paths – this is somewhat ironic, considering I still have trouble distinguishing right from left most days. I had a pace goal, and among the 8 of us, we had different paces and different goals. My goal was a little faster than most of the others, and I was pretty committed to that goal (and the other runners were definitely supportive of that goal!), so that meant that I’d start at the back of our pack, run ahead for a ways (I usually let somewhere between half mile and a mile go by before I’d turn around), loop back, check in with the group to see how everyone was doing, contribute my two cents to their conversation, and then keep going at my happy pace. This meant I would be accumulating bonus mileage in excess of 20 miles, but somewhat surprisingly…I was OK with that. I was actually more than OK with that – I wanted to push myself (you’d think 20 miles would be FAR ENOUGH to push myself…think again!).
It was a gorgeous day, and absolutely perfect running conditions! When we started it was about 55 degrees with beautiful clear skies, and although it did get warmer than perhaps we would have liked by the time we were done, there was absolutely no complaining. In fact, I completely lost count of how many times we remarked about how fabulous the day was. Positivity in action! We also had a fabulous pit crew for support. One husband (Steph’s husband Bobby and her boys) and one friend (one of our MOTR coaches, another Steph!) were out there with water, Gatorade, snacks (I’m totally hooked on mid-run watermelon…anyone who comes to cheer on marathon day – bring watermelon for me!), cowbells, and streamers — not to mention oozing and overflowing enthusiasm and energy. Other groups (every runner in the area with their sights set on Twin Cities Marathon did their 20 miles along the marathon course yesterday) had support stations too, but I’m pretty sure ours were the BEST!!
We had a pretty easy first 10 miles. Beautiful trails, lots of company out there. Lots of runners exchanging smiles and words of encouragement and camaraderie. As we wound our way around Lake Harriet, then Lake Nokomis, and along Minnehaha Creek, we eventually came to Minnehaha Falls Park – the stretch of West River Parkway along the river is one of my favorite places along the course. I don’t really know why…maybe it’s because I ran my first half marathon along that road. Maybe it’s because it’s just so pretty and there’s so much character in that part of the city. Maybe it’s because around Mile 17, I could envision that lawn chair and the purple balloon that keeps coming back to me. Sure wish my parents could come and cheer for me in three weeks.
By the time we hit about 14 miles, we were at the Franklin Bridge, crossing the Mississippi River from Minneapolis in St. Paul. My second favorite spot along the marathon course. As a bit of trivia, it’s one of only two bridges that actually connect Minneapolis on one side to St. Paul on the other. It’s one of my favorite spots along the marathon route – it’s around Mile 19.5 of the 26.2, and it represents a milestone to me – and (effort-wise) about the halfway point of the marathon. I find that kind of funny (in the ironic sense) that the first 19 miles are in Minneapolis, and the last 7 are in St. Paul – not an even split between the Twin Cities if you’re counting miles…but when you’re running it, that bridge across the Mighty Mississippi is about the halfway point mentally and physically. And it’s beautiful. Just plain beautiful. Yesterday it was blue skies and sunshine, and if Marathon Day is like the last few…it will be blue skies and sunshine on October 6 as well…and then add in peak Fall colors along the river – breathtaking in so many ways as you’re running across the bridge.
The last 6-7 miles of the course are the toughest for me – both mentally and physically. Once the course turns onto Summit Avenue and heads towards the Capitol, there’s a deceptively gradual, three-mile-long hill that tends to drain the last of your energy reserves. Or…as we learned yesterday…if you don’t “think” it’s a hill, it won’t BE a hill. As one of our runners said yesterday, “I kept waiting and wondering where that three mile long hill was!” (She said that AFTER she’d done that climb – SEE – running is predominantly a mental game!) But once you’re past the hill (after you cross Hamline Ave), it seems to take FOREVER to get to the St. Paul Cathedral. These are the miles that I have the hardest time with. But…one foot in front of the other, even when you’re tired, eventually gets you to the place you’re headed. Yesterday, I knew I was close to my third favorite spot in the marathon course, so I knew it was time to kick it in and finish strong. I have some ambitious goals in mind, so then, after I’d already run more than 20 miles, was the time to find out if I had enough gas left to quicken my pace. Know what? I did. I’m still not quite sure how I managed it, and the thought of picking up the pace more than 20 miles into a run is mind boggling, but I had it in me…I was pushing the pace harder than I had the entire long run…and…I. Felt. Fantastic. Tired? Yes. But I kept going. Just a little bit faster.
The Cathedral. My third favorite spot on the marathon course. The beautiful St. Paul Cathedral, with the bells tolling and the view down the chute of the last little bit of the marathon course…which is blessedly downhill – it truly is ALL DOWNHILL from here! Ever since my rookie marathon two years ago, I have not been able to look down John Ireland Blvd from the Cathedral to the Capitol without tears coming to my eyes and a huge lump forming in my throat. It happened last year when I was bike support for my awesome marathon training running buddies, it happens every time I drive in that part of town, and it happened again yesterday – I rounded the corner at the base of the Cathedral and caught my first glimpse of the Capitol Dome with the golden horses, and not 5 seconds later I felt the tears sliding down my cheeks – all the while I know I had a ridiculous goofy grin on my face that only runners who know the magic of the last half mile of a marathon (or a 20 mile training run, as was the case yesterday) would understand. Home stretch.
I ended up logging 23.5 miles. I think. My Garmin and my phone (MapMyRun app) didn’t quite agree, and there was a few blocks on Summit where I forgot to restart my watch after I’d stopped it while impatiently waiting for cars to get out of my way (don’t these people sitting comfy in their cars know I’ve been running for THREE HOURS and if I stopped then, I just might not be able to start again?!)…so I had to scrutinize both of my electronics and estimate the missing mileage. My Garmin said 22.92 and my phone said 24.28, and I’m guessing the true mileage is somewhere in between those, so 23.5 sounds good to me. Better yet – 23.5 FELT GOOD to me.
I stretched and chatted with our super water stop volunteer, Steph, while I waited for everyone else to come in (I was done with the looping back when I made it to the end!). Everyone made it – everyone rocked it – and every last one of us is READY for a marathon in 21 days. Look out, Twin Cities Marathon – we’re coming for you!
Now what? Taper. Time to let my body rest, recover, recharge, and replenish for 21 days before the big day. No more long runs (I do have a 13 miler and a 10 miler on my schedule for the next couple weekends, but in my warped marathon training perspective…those are not that long), and now more than ever is the time for me to focus on my eating and sleeping habits. Three more weeks. That’s it. Honestly, I’m a little sad to see the taper come…I’ve really enjoyed the training this year. Now it’s time to coast, take care of myself, and keep dreaming about what marathon day will look like. But, at the time when my training is dialing down…this is when my fundraising efforts for the Alzheimer’s Association are intensifying. I’m not quite half way to my goal, but perhaps much like the marathon (where the “halfway point” is really at about Mile 20), the next three weeks are when I’ll need to work the hardest at telling my story about how Alzheimer’s Disease affected my Dad and my family…about how if there’s ANYTHING, any little thing, I can do to make that experience less painful for someone else…I need to do it.
The money I raise will fund efforts to advance research to discover methods of prevention, treatment and ultimately, a cure for Alzheimer’s. For the millions already affected by the disease, the money you donate allows the Association to offer care, education, support and resources in communities. My Dad went from the most patient, compassionate man who could carry on a conversation with anyone and never forgot a name or a face to a quiet, easily frustrated (but thankfully never aggressive or ornery), confused man who couldn’t find any words to say and didn’t recognize his own children and grandchildren. No one – NO ONE – should have to see someone they love progress through something like this. Please help me work towards making that happen. Please click on the link for my fundraising page and give whatever you can – no amount is too great or too small because every dollar counts, and every dollar will help someone.