I completed Grandma’s Marathon in late June, and after taking it easy for a week, started training again for the Twin Cities Marathon on October 5. My first week was highlighted by an emergency root canal, followed by a 5K personal record (PR) of 21 minutes the next day. It was going to be one of those summers…
I always follow my training plan fairly closely, but if I’m having a bad day, I’ve been known to dial back a tough workout, or even skip one altogether if a decent reason presents itself. This time around, however, I did my best job yet at following my schedule, especially tempo Thursdays; by far my least favorite workout.
Strength training is something I usually do early in a training cycle, but as the demands for my time increase further in, it’s the first thing to get cut. I stuck to it this time around, and with the implantation of some new exercises, I became noticeably stronger. A stronger core led to a longer, flowing stride. Stronger legs led to hills being much less problematic. I became a different runner this summer!
My final time trial, a half marathon at Detroit Lakes, resulted in a PR of 1 hour, 41 minutes. Following the table provided by my friend and trainer Martin, I calculated a marathon of 3 hours 30 minutes was possible. I took into account that the Twin Cities Marathon is a challenging course, and set my sights on breaking 3 hours and 40 minutes. I would have to average 8 minutes and 20 seconds per mile to achieve this goal.
I woke up Sunday morning after a good night of sleep, ready to walk to the starting line. I found my way to Corral 1 much easier than expected considering everything was different with the Metrodome gone, and after standing around for 45 minutes, I checked my warm clothes and headed for the chute.
Martin coaches a gradual increase of speed, usually over 4 miles, when starting a marathon, but I planned on 3 miles instead. I would use those 3 miles to fade into a pace of 8:10-8:15, which I hoped I could carry until the hills beginning at mile 22. My average pace would be slightly under 8:20 at that point, and I could slow a bit over the final miles if needed and still finish under 3 hours and 40 minutes; at least that was my plan…
Mile one was 8:56, mile two was 8:30, and mile 3 was 8:10. OK, my fade was 2 miles instead of 3; but 8:10 was feeling good!
The Twin Cities Marathon route is fairly narrow for the first half, so I was in heavy traffic during most of it. I was passing a lot of runners, but having to go around groups of people on a curvy, 15 foot wide section of cracked cement while maintaining an 8:15 pace took a little out of me. I did notice however, that I was feeling great, perhaps better than I ever had early on in a marathon, so I continued on while tens of thousands of people were cheering me on. I even gave a few high fives to children along the way (sorry Martin)!
At the halfway point, my average pace was 8:20, so it was time to start adding a little cushion for the Summit Ave hills coming up. My hands got cold when we turned back north, so I put my gloves back on. My body still felt great, but my stomach was starting to become unsettled.
Maintaining my pace became more difficult with each passing mile, but that’s what makes running a marathon so difficult. My average pace stayed at 8:20 through mile 17, so I failed to build the cushion I needed for Summit Ave. I desperately needed some energy, but my stomach was feeling pretty bad. I felt I had to risk eating something to still have a chance of meeting my goal, so I grabbed a piece of a banana from the volunteers. I didn’t want to take my glove off to roll back the peel so I simply squeezed until some banana popped up. I bit off the chunk and pushed it around inside my dry mouth. I knew I would puke if I swallowed it, so I spit it back out.
At the end of the 18th mile they were passing out energy gels so I decided to test my stomach again. This time I slowed to a walk while I ate. The gel felt better in my mouth than the banana so I swallowed. I gave it a second to settle, and then got back to my race.
I determined at that point that 3:40 was out of the question, but felt I had built up enough of a cushion that I could still break my previous PR of 3:47 if I could simply keep running at some pace. While mile 18 was slow (9:14) due to the banana and gel experiences, Miles 19-21 were all back around 8:30. I headed up Summit Ave. hill for miles 22 and 23 and simply kept telling myself “keep running!” It worked! I passed scores of people walking, including two marathoners who were bent over sobbing. This section of the course is brutal, but I averaged a pace of 9:11 on it, which would have caused me to smile if I had possessed enough energy to raise the corners of my mouth. I had killed the hill!
I kept going through miles 24-26, averaging 9:02 even though I walked through fluid stops. The “Powerade” provided through this this critical area must be improved for next year though. It was dilute as water at one stop, concentrated high fructose corn syrup at another, and properly mixed, but ice cold at another, causing cramps when it hit my stressed stomach.
I picked up the pace during the final quarter mile, averaging 8:00 for that final stretch. I was looking for Sue, but I was in a fog and may not have noticed her even if I had looked right at her. I remember trying to raise my arms in victory, but only managing to hold them aloft for a brief second. My finishing video shows my arms falling back to my sides well before I reached the finish line.
I humped over a few yards past the finish line. I must have looked terrible because this was the first time I’ve been approached by a medic after a marathon. I assured her that I was OK, so she simply signaled for a volunteer to bring me a heat shield. I inched away from the finish line and got my medal. I heard Sue calling my name, and when I looked her way, I saw concern on her face rather than the usual excitement. I was literally struggling to walk even an inch per step, but eventually made my way over to the fence. Carl, Nancy and Jim were with Sue, and they all looked equally concerned. I told them I was nauseous and just wanted to stand there for a while.
I eventually made the usual rounds for my bag and finisher shirt, but I’ve never felt so miserable after a race. I even passed up the free Summit Ale that was being distributed, although I hadn’t carried my driver’s license with me and had witnessed a bouncer making a guy at least 10 years older than me dig his out.
I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder during a race than I did during Sunday’s Twin Cities Marathon and was rewarded with a new PR of 3 hours, 45 minutes and 25 seconds for my effort. Looking back, this training cycle has been my best ever, with new PRs in the 5K, half marathon and full marathon distances. It was my 8th marathon and my best so far: It gives me hope that at age 51, I may still have my best running years ahead of me!
Oh, by the way, I felt that since I had beaten the Summit Ave hill, I needed to celebrate with a Summit Ale. I purchased some, since the hill had made me too sick to enjoy the free one provided. A bit hoppy for my taste, but oh so extremely satisfying!