I woke up in my hotel room Sunday morning feeling both excited and nervous. My 18 weeks of training had gone almost perfectly, and I felt totally ready to tackle my 5th marathon in a couple of hours. I knew, however, that I had felt prepared before and still had failed to complete the 26.2 miles in less than four hours; would I be able to do it this time? Completing a marathon is a life changing experience, but for some reason, I’ve been hung up on completing one in less than four hours. What would this day hold in store for me?
I applied “body glide” to areas prone to chaffing, and stuck band-aids on my nipples, the one area “glide” can’t even adequately protect. The forecast called for a temp of 31 degrees so I wasn’t going to be able to wear the sharp Red River Runners “racing jersey” that I had planned on strutting around in. I settled for a long sleeve shirt with my bib over a short sleeve one for extra warmth. I stuck with the original running shorts as long pants tend to slow me down. I put on my sweat band, and covered it with the pair of free “Twin Cities Marathon” ear warmers that came with the race packet. A new set of gloves I had purchased the previous day and a throw away cotton sweatshirt rounded out my race day ensemble.
The shuttle bus dropped me off right in front of the Metro-Dome, and I walked inside to join fellow Red Rive Runners Jessica Snyder, Anne-Marie Studer, Erin Gaddie, Natasha Kasprowicz, Holly Dannewitz, Nick Flom, and Martin Short. Their smiling faces made my already optimistic mood soar even a bit higher! We talked, we laughed, we ate and drank, and we told each other that we could and would complete the 2012 Twin Cities Marathon!
Martin was a bit of a surprise, as I didn’t know he had registered for this particular race. It turned out he had attended the UND hockey game the evening before in Grand Forks, and had driven all night to be able to participate. He had arrived in Minneapolis during the early morning, and had slept a few hours in his car, and was now planning on running the entire 26.2 mile race at my side! He didn’t know if he would be able to complete the distance himself, but vowed to stick with me as long as he could, and instructed me to leave him behind if he slowed down or quit.
We headed down to corral #1, where the first wave of runners prepared for the starting gun. Martin went over our game plan again in the minutes leading up to the National Anthem, and his presence gave me a bit of extra confidence that it would work. The gun sounded, and we began the five mile “fade in” to our planned race pace of 8:25 per mile. We passed Minnesota Viking Hall of Famer and Supreme Court Judge Allen Page playing his tuba, and when I pumped my fist and yelled “YEAH Allen Page” I stepped in a hole and nearly ended up sprawled on the cement. I decided it best to keep my eyes on the road!
I got a bit warm during the 4th mile, so I pulled off the 25 year old faded sweatshirt I was wearing and threw it in the gutter: This was the first time I’ve ever thrown a garment away during a race! Martin needed to use a porta potty, so he told me to keep running, and that he would catch up. Sure enough, in less than five minutes, he was back at my side, munching on a cookie a spectator had given him.
There were kids along the way holding up their hands wanting a “high five” from any of the runners willing to give them one. I was only too happy to oblige on more than one occasion, and Martin started to look at me like I was crazy for wasting energy in such a non productive way. I explained that I felt it important to encourage the next generation of runners by sharing the race day excitement. Within the next mile, Martin had moved over and started giving the “high fives” for me so I could conserve my energy!
We settled into our “zone”, and put together a string of miles slightly faster than we had planned. My gloves came off and went into my pocket during this time, and my ear warmers slid down to my neck. Martin took off his outer shirt, tied it around his waist, and continued on with the same Red River Runners “racing jersey” I had hoped to wear. After another potty stop for Martin, we eventually settled in for the middle portion of the race with me starting to tire, but still able to hold the pace we had planned.
We entered the race portion where we ran along the Mississippi River on the Minneapolis side, and I told Martin that this was where I had folded the previous year. It felt extremely tempting to take just a little rest, but I wasn’t going to let my trainer down after he had come this far to coach me through the rough spots. I decided to trust my training, and just keep going like Martin said I would be able to do. I must admit that at this point I doubted I would make it the entire distance without walking at least some of the route.
The volunteers were passing out energy gels around mile 17, and I decided to eat one, even though it was a different brand than I was accustomed to. I slowed, but didn’t stop while I squeezed the vanilla paste into my mouth. It was thicker than I was expecting, and I gagged just a little. I grabbed a cup of “Power Ade” and washed it down, but the sweet paste taste lingered on, making me think I would throw it all up. I grabbed a cup of water, and that seemed to get me through the worst of the nausea, but I didn’t know what would happen as I continued running.
Martin seemed oblivious to my problems, but jogged ahead anyway, motivating me to continue. He then focused my attention on fellow Red River Runner and Boston qualifier, Holly Dannewitz, who was a hundred yards ahead, holding a steady pace. I forgot about my stomach issues, and even lost track of Holly, but blindly followed Martin as we made our way through a hoard of tired and slowing runners. As we pulled even, Martin slapped Holly on the back, letting her know we were there. Holly asked how I was doing, and I responded that I was getting tired but keeping at it. The three of us ran together for a few minutes, and I would have been content to continue on with Holly until the finish, but Martin had other plans: He eventually wished her well and said we were moving on!
There was a difficult climb to reach the Franklin Bridge, but it was at this point, mile 19, that I became determined that I was going to run the entire Twin Cities Marathon without walking even once! Spectators were yelling their welcome to St. Paul, and I knew that the race was winding down, and I was going to keep going, no matter what! Martin informed me that we could complete the marathon in under 4 hours if we simply averaged 10 minute miles from this point forward. That was useful information, but I had no intention to settle for 10 minute miles down the stretch: I was going to push myself until the end!
We went through the “wall” at mile 20. The 3:45 pace group pulled even with, then passed us during the next mile. I was fine with this, and knew I wasn’t going to keep up with them, but I also felt that they weren’t going to get that far ahead either, if we could stick to our plan. Martin had planned on some slower miles as we climbed up Summit Avenue, so he instructed me not to even look at my Garmin for the next two miles, but to simply hold a steady effort, no matter what the pace. I complied with my trainer’s wishes and continued running; passing many runners who couldn’t handle the steep incline in the process. Martin turned to me at the top of the hill and said: “You’re doing great, I love you man!”
We reached mile 23, and I remembered how the course had leveled out the previous year, but I had been unable to continue running. This time around, I picked the pace back up and pulled even with Martin, challenging him to keep up. My trainer was up to the challenge, and he kept telling me that my training had paid off, and I was now the strong runner in the pack, passing others instead of being passed! He was right: We passed runner after runner as we headed for the St. Paul Cathedral, the sound of its bells filling the Sunday morning air.
We reached the Cathedral, and Martin turned and gave me my own personal “high five!” He said we had reached the end, and it was all downhill from this point, and I had completed what I had set out to do: Finish a marathon in less than 4 hours! We were silent as we headed down the hill, past the multitude of spectators gathered to witness the end of the 2012 Twin Cities Marathon. They didn’t know what this sub four hour time (3:47:37) meant to me, a North Dakota farm boy who started running late in life. They also didn’t know that the man who finished next to me, Martin, was the best trainer in the world; someone who made a special effort to drive to the Twin Cities late at night just to ensure that I would finally finish what I was capable of completing; a marathon without walking, and one in under 4 hours. Thank you Martin, I love you too man!