It’s six days post marathon, and I feel fantastic! Even though I’ve only run this race twice, it’s easily my favorite race. Hands down. There is something completely indescribable about the marathon distance, and this course in particular. I’m pretty confident when I say that this won’t be my last time on this course – I’d love to run it every year if my life and family time allowed it. I don’t know when I’ll be back out there running from the Metrodome to the Capitol again (in the most indirect, yet beautiful route possible), but let me relive those 26.2 glorious miles and give you a recap. Sorry. This is a long one. Pace yourself. It’s a marathon.
The weather had been terrible for the last few days, and the forecast was not great until the last time I checked it before I went to bed – apparently just so I could get a good night’s sleep, it was a PERFECT race day forecast! It was clear and about 45 degrees when we woke up, and supposed to be sunny and cool, with a 30% chance of rain by 11ish. I could do without the rain, but it was a forecast I could live with.
My fantastic friend Kiri offered to give me, Jason (my nephew) and Katie (my niece) a ride to the starting line. This was HUGE, as it meant we didn’t have to worry about getting back to retrieve a car after the race was done. Kiri was early. We were all up and ready. Morning pre-race preparations were going swimmingly. Pre-marathon breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter (crunchy of course!), a banana for the road, and a big cup of coffee did the trick. We got to the Metrodome about an hour before the race started, which was the perfect amount of time to find everyone and snap some pre-race pictures, visit the bathroom a couple times (the lines were MUCH shorter for the women’s than the men’s! Only before a marathon…), and make sure to get to the bag drop on time. We actually barely made that one…scrambled a little to get my gear checked and get in the starting corral before they played the national anthem. The sky was bright blue and the sun was shining – it was a PERFECT day for a run!
We crossed the starting line about 8 minutes after gun time, and Kristen and I were committed to stick to our race plan. Start slow and easy, then speed it up through the middle miles, and maintain a consistent marathon pace through the finish. Sounds easy enough at Mile 1. In other words – for the first half of the race, our mantra was “Don’t be an idiot.” It’s too easy to get swept up in the adrenaline-loaded crowd when you’re feeling fantastic and run WAAAYYY too fast those early miles. Trust me, I know. I did it last time. Then…when I hit Mile 20 and Summit Ave…the gas was gone and I barely had fumes to run on. Our plan was to run smarter this time. “Don’t be an idiot.”
The crowd was amazing from the start. The first highlight of our race was at Mile 2.5 where my favorite obnoxious spectator was there to cheer us on, and remind us of our plan for the first half of the race. As we wound around Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet, the spectators did not disappoint. This is the only marathon I’ve run…but I think I’m pretty spoiled. People line both sides of the street, and there are more signs, balloons, cowbells, and high fives than you could possibly imagine. It’s a party for the runners, and the spectators make sure they have a good time as well.
We caught our first glimpse of Kristen’s family somewhere around Lake Calhoun…I think. Purple balloons, signs, high fives, and enthusiasm abounded! The day was gorgeous. Peak Fall colors. The Minneapolis skyline visible across the opposite shore of Lake Calhoun. Blue skies and air crisp enough to see your breath, yet warm enough to be comfy running in shorts and a tank. I was carrying my own bottles filled with Nuun, but I did stop for water every once in awhile (not at every water stop, though). I did grab water at Mile 7 to help wash down my Espresso Love doubly caffeinated GU (makes a pretty good substitute for coffee on an early morning run!). The volunteers at the water stops were great, and whenever there were kids offering water, I took water from a kid. I grabbed a cup of water from a little boy at Mile 7 and kept running, refueled for the next 5-7 miles. I found out later that the kid had been overlooked by most of the runners and was getting frustrated because no one would take water from him. Turns out, this little boy is a friend of my son’s in his Cub Scout pack, and both he and his Dad recognized me and yelled for me as I ran off — I didn’t hear it (consciously anyway), and I didn’t even realize that I’d made Sam’s morning by taking his cup of water until the next day after Cub Scouts when Sam and his dad talked to my husband.
We were maintaining pretty even splits at this point, at or just under 9min miles. We were soaking in the energy, enthusiasm and love from the spectators. We were looking for our families again around Mile 11 on the northeast side of Lake Nokomis. First we found the purple balloons with Kristen’s family. Then we found the ghost balloon (the only ghost on the course!) and my family. I dropped off a bottle for John to refill, as we’d see them again on the northwest side of Nokomis in a few miles. Along Cedar, we also saw my sister’s family and one of my coworkers – every time we encountered family and friends cheering for us, it was unbelievably uplifting. We were still feeling great at the half marathon mark, which we had wanted to hit under 2:00, but we were slightly behind that pace, hitting 13.1 at 2:00:54. No matter – we were in great shape for the last 13.1, and I refueled with a salted caramel GU (candy disguised as an energy shot) and water as I high fived and called back to several additional supporters…friends and coworkers who were close to the half marathon mark…and then picked up my water bottle, and refilled a second one around Mile 14, where John and Todd (Kristen’s husband) and our army of kid cheerleaders were stationed.
Time to head across Minnehaha Parkway to Minnehaha Falls and West River Road. This is one of my favorite stretches of the course, and it’s the section that has appeared and reappeared in my dreams and I have played and replayed in my head. The purple balloon. My Dad. My eyes stung and my throat was tight as I looked down the road and saw them. The purple balloons…accompanied by one of my biggest sources of encouragement and inspiration…my BRF DeNae and her family! She had watermelon and hard candies for us – and one of the absolute best hugs of the day. I was starting to get tired. But then I remembered why I was doing this in the first place. AND…it was time to lock into the mantra of the second half of the marathon. If the first half was about “don’t be an idiot” then the second half was about “don’t be a wimp.” Time to dig deep. I packed my mental shovel for just that occasion!
The clouds were thickening and getting darker. Now we had to try and beat the rain. However, even if could run like a Kenyan, I couldn’t have beaten it, and it started raining around Mile 19, just as we were approaching the Franklin Bridge to cross the Mighty Mississippi. Great. The hardest part of the marathon. I’ve already been running for 19 miles. A lot of the last 7 miles were uphill. I’m getting tired. AND now there’s a cold rain hitting us in the face. Great. We ran through “The Wall” at Mile 20, smacking it with our hands for good luck on our way by. Finally, the halfway point of the race. Remember the plan for the second half of the race. Don’t be a wimp.
Time for another energy shot – mentally and physically. My hands were cold and wet, so Kristen dug my GU packet out of my fuel belt (thank you!), and I had to use my teeth to rip it open. I knew there was an AWESOME water stop coming up at Mile 20.6 – staffed by dozens of my Moms on the Run running buddies. As I saw purple and green shirts in the distance, I also spotted one of the volunteers (my friend Angel!) holding a sign for me. I could feel the love. There were SO MANY people there cheering and yelling for me, and the boost that provided was indescribable. I wanted to hug and high five all of them…but…as I would have both spilled all of the PowerAde and water cups they were holding out, I settled for lots of yelling and screaming and a few carefully placed high fives. The love and support from these particular volunteers was pretty overwhelming and had me choking back tears as I pressed on beyond Mile 20.6.
We saw our families one last time at around Mile 21, and then the REAL work started. Uphill, in the rain, on tired legs and sore feet, when my body and my mind were both fighting exhaustion. This is the part of a marathon when your head questions whether you’ve got what it takes to keep pushing for 5 more miles (and then some). Remember the plan. Don’t be a wimp. I kept the pace pretty consistent, and I’m pretty darn proud of myself for not allowing myself to fade in those tough miles along Summit Avenue. However, Kristen started to pull away from me. Not too far…just about 20-30 feet in front of me where I could still keep my eyes on her, but I just couldn’t keep up with her. In my head I was both encouraging her to keep moving as strong as she could (and she was!) and encouraging myself not to fall any farther behind than that, even if I couldn’t close the distance and catch up with her. It was definitely the point in the race where, although we had done well running side by side for 21 miles, now we had to hunker down in our individual zones and listen to our bodies for the last few, very tough miles. Remember the plan: Don’t be a wimp. I had trained for this. I had experience with this. This was the part where I had trouble my rookie marathon. I had vowed that I’d be better prepared and plan for this stretch next time.
Other runners were struggling too. I saw one runner right in front of me who had collapsed and was surrounded by medical staff. I saw another runner whose legs turned to jelly right before my eyes and had to be helped to the side of the road for medical attention. I counted my blessings…although I was tired, I was still feeling good and strong (well, despite feeling miserable and weak as I had been running for about 23 miles and had just finished a 3 mile uphill stretch on tired legs in the cold rain). AND, I managed to catch up to Kristen. We checked in with each other. We were tired. Muscles, joints, and feet were telling the horror stories of running 23 miles, and we still had 3.2 miles to go. A 5K…essentially we just had a 5K to go. But, definitely the toughest miles. Remember the plan: Don’t be a wimp.
I kept running, consistent pace, no fade. We’d been close to the splits for our 4 hour goal the entire time (3:59:59!), but I still wasn’t sure if we’d been close enough…and how that 3 mile uphill (where I did pace slightly slower than I had been) had affected my pacing and time. But…I was NOT a wimp. I kept running. Then, in the distance, I could see the Mississippi River Valley. I knew we were getting close to the Cathedral. I picked up the pace a little and the goofy smile I’d been wearing for the first 21 miles that I had to put away for a few miles came back. Then I could see the Cathedral. THAT made me smile even bigger. Then I could see the firetrucks and the big flag over the chute downhill to the finish. Smile getting bigger and fighting tears at this point. As I was running downhill to the finish line, my Garmin marked 26.2 at 3:58:39. It wasn’t official, but that was 26.2, and I was under four hours. Smile got bigger and a couple tears trickled out. I picked up the pace even more…running sub 8min miles at this point (I know it’s downhill, but I’d also been running for more than 26 miles already!). I found the ghost floating above the crowd just before the finish line – and it’s a good thing I found them, because they had no idea where I was until I got their attention! Then…the finish line! I had told a few people I would do a cartwheel over the finish line if I could hit my sub 4 hour goal…I wasn’t sure if I’d made it when I got to the finish line, but I definitely did not have a cartwheel in me! I celebrated across the finish line with a smile about 26.2 miles wide and arms in the air while my friend Kiri (who was volunteering at the finish line and had recruited a couple of additional people) screamed their fool heads off for me. Seriously, my finish line video makes me tear up every time I watch those 8 seconds. Based on my official time, I had not made my sub 4 hour goal, but my time did have a four followed by two zeroes, so I’m not going to beat myself up about it!
Kristen came in less than a minute later (so proud of how well she ran and pushed it at the end, even when it hurt!), and we hobbled and were herded to get our medals, water, chocolate milk, broth, mylar blankets, and post-race snacks. Once I stopped running my muscles told me they were DONE, so stretching was a definite necessity. The curb we had to scale to get my gear that I’d checked and pick up our finisher’s shirts looked nothing short of Mount Everest, and the medical volunteers were there to catch the tired runners who tripped up it (more than half stumbled up the curb, I’d estimate). We found Jason right away (he’d finished a good 20 minutes earlier!) and Katie was not far behind (4:17 for her first marathon – ROCK STAR!). We found our families (purple balloons and ghost balloon came in handy – again!), and went home to shower, eat, relax, and bask in little marathon glory.
So, if I dissect this marathon – it’s a completely different story than the last one. I didn’t start out too fast. I didn’t get caught up in the adrenaline overdrive in the early miles. I let people pass me early in the race, and I had the energy to maintain consistent pacing throughout, which allowed ME to pass runners toward the end. My slowest miles were at the beginning. I ran a negative split! My first 13.1 was 2:00:54, the last 13.1 was 1:59:48. I kept a pretty solid pace during the uphill climb from Mile 20-23. I turned on the gas and ran my fastest at the END of the marathon.
But my favorite story is in the Passed/By column. I was passed by lots of runners (hundreds of runners) in the early miles, and I didn’t pass as many (but still quite a few). The disparity between the number who passed me and how many I passed widened at each checkpoint – where fewer runners were passing me, but I was passing more runners. Indeed, the number of runners who passed me steadily declined from the start to the end, and I passed quite a few runners in those final miles. I saved some gas for those miles, so I could turn on the engines from Mile 24 to the end. I passed 185 people from Mile 24 to the end, and not nearly that many passed me. Last time around I slogged through those miles. I walked more of those miles than I care to admit. Not this time. I was ready. I was prepared. I was trained.
Another marathon in the books, this one better than the last. I gave it all, and left it all on the course (somewhere along Summit Ave.). Not sure when the next one will be, but I’ll be back – not giving up on that sub 4 quite yet – I’ll find those 43 seconds (maybe more?!) somewhere…