Grandma’s Marathon

I spent Friday night with Sue, Jim, and Nancy in a dorm suite at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. In the morning, Jim drove me to the area where the buses were waiting and I boarded one at 6AM. I was then dropped me off outside Two Harbors at 6:45; about three blocks from the starting line. I had an hour wait, so I began slowly walking towards the main cluster of people, most of which were lined up behind one of the hundred or so porta-potties placed parallel to the starting line.

I saw my friend Teresa right away, and gave her a hug for luck. She was getting ready to run her first marathon, and she was simply beaming with energy! After a little stretching, I got into one of the dozens of lines for the porta-potties, and began waiting. A half hour later, it began to appear that I wouldn’t have enough time to get rid of my one cup of morning coffee, but then they started playing the national anthem, and hundreds of people left the lines and began heading for the starting chute. I quickly moved forward before someone else could cut in front of me during all of the chaos.

I did make it inside a porta-potty with five minutes to spare, and then raced towards the bag check area to get rid of my coat. I then began walking along the outside of the starting area with hundreds of others, on the edge of a ditch, looking for a place to climb over the fence. People were popping over the orange barricade all over the starting area when the final warm up song, “Chariots of Fire,” began blaring over the speakers. I began making exaggerated slow motion running movements like ones from the movie, and as I glanced around, hundreds of others were doing the same.

I didn’t hear the starting gun go off, but eventually the mass of people began moving towards the starting line. About four minutes later, I stepped over the rubber mat, and officially began my running of the 38th Grandma’s Marathon!

Almost from the beginning, runners that had failed to make it into a porta-potty began stopping along the side of the road to relieve themselves; sometimes while still standing on the pavement. Roadside urination was a common sight during the first half, and while most of the time it was a steamy arc leaving a man’s running shorts, I saw at least a half dozen women jogging through the ditch and heading for the trees while lowering their shorts.

I was wearing a white canvas throw away jacket (this year’s Fargo Half Marathon complementary post race wrap) but with the temperature still at 49 degrees at the start of the race, I decided to leave it on, with the hood still up over my head. After three miles of gradually warming up, the hood came down, and I settled into my planned pace of 8:20-8:25 per mile. There were a lot of gradual hills and I slowed up a bit while going up and went down a little faster, keeping the effort constant like Martin coached.

I experienced a few lower GI rumbles during mile 6, and began to fear that a porta-potty stop might become necessary in my near future. There were only two each mile, so I began to check them all as I went by, costing me a few seconds each time. I finally arrived at the halfway point to discover, much to my relief, a virtual city of unoccupied porta-potties!

Two things about my quick pit stop: 1) The porta-potties have mirrors on the inside of their doors. It’s not a pleasant sight looking into your own face close up after running 13 miles! 2) I had been averaging an 8:30 pace up until that time. Spending about a minute in the porta-potty brought my average up to 8:37.

The white caution flag was still flying on the race course, warning runners that the temperature and fog were combining to pose a risk of hypothermia so I decided to leave my canvas jacket on a while longer. I was now feeling comfortable, warm, relieved, and slightly rested so I went back to work. I knew my goal of 3 hours 40 minutes was no longer possible, but a PR of 3:47 still was, so that would become my focus.

Miles 14-19 went well, with me averaging 8:34, but I was becoming very tired. There seemed to be quite a bit of uphill running after that, and miles 20-22 wiped me out, and I could only maintain a 9:22 average while doing it. It finally became warm enough for me to remove my jacket at mile 21, and although my arm pits had become raw, the fresh air on my arms felt good and I perked a little. I reached the top of Lemon Drop Hill, and a spectator informed me that the rest of the course was all downhill. A runner on my left remarked that she hoped it was the truth, and I added “Me too!”

Somewhere in that area there were a group of fraternity guys standing along the course with beer funnels, offering to pour a beer down your throat. A young man ahead of me ran over, opened his mouth, tilted his head back, and downed one as I went past. Another frat guy sprinted up to me and asked if I wanted one too. I said “No thank you” and continued on my way. As he headed back to his brothers, he loudly proclaimed to everyone on the road “Only pussies drink water!” I immediately determined that he was either very stupid or very drunk. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and presumed he had downed one too many beers for breakfast, and blew his comment off. What sober person would question the toughness of someone who had just run 22 miles? Besides, if he was inferring that women were weak, I was certain one of the 3,000 marathon and 4,000 half marathon female finishers that would be passing his way would eventually set him straight!

The final 4 miles were mostly downhill, and there were lots of people cheering me along, but I had nothing left, and struggled to maintain a simple recovery pace. I averaged 10 minute miles over that stretch but had a very pleasant surprise right at the 25 mile mark: Sue, Jim and Nancy were standing along the street holding signs and cheering. Sue has never been out on the course, so hearing her call my name caught me by surprise. She later said I looked terribly tired, and when I saw the picture she took, I had to agree with her assessment. I ran over to the three and gave them high fives before stumbling along for the final mile.

I finished my first Grandma’s Marathon in a time of 3 hours, 55 minutes and 9 seconds. I later heard that Dick Beardsley’s 33 year old course record had fallen earlier that morning. I was saddened that the record for Minnesota’s most famous marathon was no longer held by a native Minnesotan, but felt good about being on the course when history was made. It was my seventh marathon and overall it was a very pleasant experience.

2 Responses

  1. Awesome recap of your 7th marathon, Jim! Way to rock it. And you are right, no sober person would ever question the toughness of a marathoner! You are such an inspiration!

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