Back in January I decided that I wanted Grandma’s Marathon to be the ninth of my career. The training cycle ended up being my best yet. I felt fantastic throughout and got in virtually every scheduled workout, even a couple of really tough ones I had skipped in previous years. I headed into Duluth Friday afternoon feeling I had the potential for my best marathon yet. When I looked at the weather forecast though, there would likely be showers or thunderstorms during the race, and that kind of brought down my spirits. I shared my concerns with Richard Dafoe, who was manning the Grand Forks Wild Hog table at the expo, and he gave me some advice: He told me to start embracing the rain right now. Welcome the rain, and tell yourself it’s going to be fun running in it. You’ll be ready for the race whatever the weather turns out to be. You can’t control the weather, so embrace the worst of it.
I got on the bus at 6AM to head to the starting line and even though there were sprinkles and dark clouds, I remained positive. I posted on Face Book that I was excited for my ninth marathon and that it was going to be a great day, and I really believed it. The rain became steady as our bus waited to unload, and as I stepped off, it increased significantly. I got out a large black garbage bag I had brought along, and after punching head and arm holes it, I threw it over my head. There were no places to get out of the rain so I resigned myself to simply standing there for the next hour, waiting for the race to start.
I decided to go stand in one of the hundreds of lines to use a porta-potty. As I wandered around, trying to find where the end was, so I wouldn’t cut in front of others, I saw my friend Jessica standing in line, so I joined her. As we inched closer to the little fiberglass toilets, it began pouring. I saw a steady stream of water running off Jess’s nose, chin, and ears, and imagined I shared the same drowned rat appearance. Jess kept my spirits up though with her smile and laughter; she was perhaps even more excited about this marathon than I was!
We eventually got our turns at the potties and then made our way to the trucks to check our belongings for the trip back to Duluth. We wished each other luck and set off for our places in the starting gate. I wanted to be somewhere near the 3:35 pace group, and Jess begun wiggling her way through the mass of humanity as well, trying to find her desired pace group.
I settled into my spot and instinctively huddled, trying to remain dry: There would be no warm ups or stretching on this day! They began playing “Chariots of Fire” over the loud speakers and I yelled “Please! Not Chariots of Fire!” The song abruptly ended and they switched to “Mony Mony,” so I gave a loud “Thank you!” After about 10 seconds, “Chariots” returned so I lumped it together with the unpleasant rain and simply embraced it. I decided at that time to keep my garbage bag on for the first few miles, but realized it hung below my knees and would cause problems. I attempted to tear it off at waist length, but this proved to be quite difficult. I eventually succeeded but not without a few choice words and a vow to purchase cheaper bags next time!
6,000+ wet marathon runners eventually set off and I thought to myself that race officials wouldn’t be using any photos of this start in future promotional material! I had wanted to fade into my planned race pace of 8:15 over 3 miles, but my desire to simply get moving and get warm got me to that pace by the end of the first mile. My garbage bag came off a couple of miles later.
I’m not a very good pacer, so I often look for people going about my speed so I can stick with them. Miles 2-5 were an extremely constant 8:07 thanks to another runner about my age doing an excellent job of pacing on the gentle hills, but when she stopped to use a toilet, I was on my own. I slowed down just a bit but I would be alright. Mile 10 was a fast, downhill one.
I made it to the halfway point holding an overall pace of 8:14. I needed to use a toilet myself, but when I tried to untie my trunks inside the porta-potty, the wet strings slid into a knot, and it took me over a minute to get them undone. I heard the rain drops hitting the roof and was tempted to stay inside the shelter for a bit, but knew time was ticking so I continued on. My Garmin told me that my overall pace had dropped to 8:20 after factoring in the stop time. I doubted I could make up that much time so I decided to just continue on as best I could and see where I finished.
The late teen miles seemed to include a few more hills and my pace began to slip. I reached mile 20, and as always, the mental portion of the race began. A runner is dead tired at this point and the thought of having to complete 6.2 more miles seems utterly impossible. I try to think of it instead as one mile at a time, and that usually helps. I bargained with my legs that if they ran each mile, I would allow them to walk through the water stops. This technique has worked for me in the past and it worked again on this day. The problem is that your overall pace suffers significantly with the walking, but sometimes that’s all you can do.
I saw Lemon Drop hill looming from a distance and it’s sight made me mutter much the same as last year. Lemon Drop Hill isn’t a long hill, but it is short and steep and you do need to be ready for it. I decided to push myself hard for the mile of flat terrain leading up to it, and then walk the steep portion to the top. The spectators at the top were reminding the runners that it was all downhill from that point on, so even though there were still over 3 miles to the finish line, I thought I could make it without walking any more.
The start of mile 26 contained a steep downhill block. I cried out loud as my tired feet slapped down the incline, the pain in my maxed quads more than I could bear. I came around the next corner and was greeted by my cheering section. Sue, Carl, Nancy and Jim were ringing cowbells and yelling there encouragement as I neared their position. Their presence brought a much needed smile to my face and I gave them a high five as I passed.
I continued on, passing the William A. Irvin, and after several turns, I saw the finish line a few blocks ahead. I pushed with what little I had left and as I neared the end I raised my hands in triumph, holding up nine fingers, one for each marathon I had completed. Olympian Carrie Tollefson took a picture of me at that moment and included it with 200 other photos in her Grandma’s 2015 Face Book album. Thanks Carrie!
I finished in 3 hours, 49 minutes and 49 seconds. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t my fastest, but it was number nine, and I’m extremely proud to have finished it!