I didn’t grow up an athlete. Running was a sport I took up in 2010 for a one-and-done half marathon. At the seven year mark, I’ve now run four marathons, twenty-four half marathons, and more 5ks + 10ks than I can count on both hands. This past weekend I finished my fourth marathon with a 40-minute PR, and while it wasn’t the time I was hoping for, Grandma’s Marathon is hands-down my favorite race to date.
I’ve always struggled with eating breakfast in the morning before a race. I’m generally not hungry in the morning ever, so that coupled with minor race nerves usually results in me trying to eat something I have zero interest in. This has been completely fine for half marathons as of late, but I worried a couple bites of eggs and potatoes just weren’t going to cut it on Saturday.
Lora and I left our hotel in Canal Park just before 6am to catch the bus to the starting line in Two Harbors. We were both a little concerned with how calm we felt and the fact it didn’t feel like we were about to run 26.2 miles, but figured we should probably run (quite literally) with it. We arrived at the start around 7am leaving us with 45 minutes to kill. We immediately hopped in line for the portapotties which were super long but didn’t matter because, 45 minutes.
My main (C) goal for this race was to PR. It wouldn’t be hard, considering I was in much better shape than I was for my previous three, but the A goal was 4:45 and B goal was 4:59. The weather was not ideal, with temps creeping into the seventies and humidity at 95% from the minute we woke up. It was going to be a tough day, but these are variables you cannot control so you have to make the decision to either manage the conditions or let them ruin you. Running is a lot more mental than any of us care to admit.
Miles 1 – 8
10:38, 10:50, 10:57, 10:48, 10:42, 12:21, 10:55, 11:23
I wanted to start out slow, but thoughts of banking time filled my mind. I knew once the sun came out it was going to be a game changer. Unsurprisingly, the first mile was my fastest of the entire race but was still in the realm of where I wanted to be. I felt pretty solid through mile 8, taking my first Gu at the hour mark and a salt pill shortly after.
Miles 9 – 16
12:37, 10:38, 12:29, 11:42, 14:34, 13:12, 16:17, 11:31
Grandma’s will go down as the most sporadic splits in my racing history. At Mile 13, my body decided it was not interested in handling Gu. Apparently the sugar and my stomach were not getting along. Best news EVER with 13 miles to go and a mediocre breakfast under my belt. I took bathroom breaks at miles 13 and 15, and immediately felt better. Runners around me though? They were not doing so well. Everyone was walking and I watched so many struggle with cramps and nausea, some eventually dropping out. I could barely stomach my second Gu, but relied on salt pills (six total) through the rest of the race.
Miles 17 – 26.2
13:39, 12:30, 11:38, 14:13, 13:12, 15:07, 14:27, 12:14, 11:40, 11:27
These splits still make me laugh. I knew it was warm so I tried to be smart by walking when I needed to based on current heart rate and keeping the pace around 9:30/10:00 while running between breaks. My stomach was still a bit uneasy but it was manageable. I ate an orange at one point because I thought it was a good idea to consume some calories, but my stomach said NOPE. Legs still felt great, which is a complete 180 from every other marathon I’ve run. They didn’t need the walk breaks, but the last thing I wanted was to end up in a med tent because I pushed too hard.
Mile 22 is where Lemon Drop lives. Under normal circumstances, it’s a hill you’ll probably cruise up and then crush the downhill on the other side. But at mile 22 of a marathon, it’s the goddamn devil. The downhill afterwards still felt amazing and I passed a ton of a people.
We had arrived in downtown Duluth and the spectators were out in full force. It’s exactly what we needed at the end of the race. I was STARVING at this point which was the worst, but there was nothing I could do about it. Just before mile 25, I started to feel the rain and within seconds it was a torrential downpour. My sunglasses were covered in large raindrops but taking them off wasn’t an option. I figured the faster I finished, the faster I’d be out of the rain. So I kept the legs moving.
Official Finish :: 5:26:04
Of course disappointment sets in when we set out with a lofty goal and don’t achieve it, but all things considered I’m incredibly happy with my finish time. I ran a smart race for once and my legs appreciate it. Two days after the race I was almost completely back to normal and could probably even run today (but won’t).
I always thought I’d be someone who needed a large marathon, with the camaraderie of fellow runners around me and spectators three rows deep. While Grandma’s doesn’t have the smallest field (roughly 9,000 full marathoners), crowd support through mile 20 was pretty sparse. HOWEVER! Those who made their way out to cheer along Highway 61? Super enthusiastic. Many cities loathe races shutting down their roads, but from Twin Harbors to Duluth, residents appeared to be overjoyed to support the insane runners who chose to run 26.2 miles for fun on a Saturday morning in June.
The course was gorgeous! I was worried running almost 19 miles along Lake Superior was going to be incredibly boring. It actually was very peaceful and the slight breeze coming off the lake was perfect. The left side of the course was a little more shaded, but it also made running the tangents pretty difficult. You have to pick your battle there. I loved finishing the end of the race in downtown Duluth, although could have done without the 4 turns in mile 25.
Lora and I ran the Great Grandma’s Challenge, which is a 5k on Friday night and the full marathon on Saturday morning. While this may seem delusional to 97% of the population, I LOVED it. We received a finisher’s shirt + medal for both the 5k + marathon, a hoodie for completing the challenge, a pair of Grandma’s Marathon socks, and a 1/4 zip tech shirt for registering early. From the start through mile 20, there were aid stations every 2 miles with water, Powerade, ice, and sponges soaked in cold water. After mile 20 the stations switched to every mile. I’ve never run a race with an ice station but good lord, I think dumping a cup of ice into my sports bra every couple miles saved me. I really wish warmer races (ahem, Houston) would do something similar because it would make all the difference. I don’t know how they kept it from melting, but the fact I could still grab it at mile 24 made me unbelievably grateful.
It’s really hard for me to fault Grandma’s Marathon for anything. The execution of everything was flawless from the moment we arrived at the expo on Friday afternoon to when we left the post-race Rock the Big Top party Saturday night. Honestly, I cannot wait to come back in 2018. Oh and yes, that’s happening – we already booked our hotel room.