Back in December I decided that Grandma’s would be my 11th marathon. A couple of days later Carl told me that he wanted to run this one with me, so I signed him up too. A couple of days later Sue signed up for the 5K, so all of us ended up planning on coming to Duluth to run this weekend. Carl and I started our training January 4th, but as many of you know, a lot can happen in 24 weeks!
I completed 850 miles of training during this period and was running at the highest level of my 8 year career. Carl was matching me on distance and speed for the first few months and actually outperformed me at our 5K time trial in March. After that, he began having a little more difficulty with the endurance type runs. His confidence began to erode after the 10K and half marathon time trials and I know firsthand what that can do to a marathon runner. His goal for Grandma’s went from blazing fast to just finishing, and that’s perfectly fine for any marathon, especially your first.
Sue’s speed and endurance were both increasing rapidly until early April, when she suffered from acute pancreatitis and needed to have her gall bladder removed. She recovered nicely though, and was about back to the level she was when she got sick. Unfortunately, one of our dogs is recovering from a severe paw injury and the other one has kidney issues which suddenly became much worse the day before we were scheduled to leave. Sue decided to remain at home and run the Lindlauf animal hospital; cleaning the wounds of one dog and injecting fluids into the other.
We picked up Sue’s packet at the expo so at least she could get the shirt she paid for. I was missing Sue while I was preparing my gear for the race last night so I decided I wanted to take something of hers along with me today. I quickly decided it was going to be her unused bib, so I tore the chip off (so it wouldn’t interfere with my timing) and pinned it underneath my own bib, close to my heart.
I then pinned a single glove on the back of my singlet in honor of Christine, a fellow Red River Runner who had planned on running Grandma’s this year. I was on a long run outside back in February with Christine and several others when my hands became too cold to keep running. Christine pulled a spare pair of gloves out of her coat pocket and gave them to me to pull over my inadequate ones so I could continue. I had planned on washing and returning the gloves, but when Christine suffered a stress fracture a month later, which forced her to withdraw from Grandma’s, I decided to carry one with me when I ran the marathon.
The forecast called for cloudy skies and warm temperatures, so Carl and I dressed appropriately and left our dorm room at St. Scholastica at 5:45. We climbed into a bus and it drove us up highway 61 for a half hour before dropping us off at an auto dealership right outside the town of Two Harbors. I then introduced my son to a “long standing” Grandma’s tradition; spending the 90 minutes leading up to the start of the race standing in lines to use the portable toilets.
We began moving to the starting chute immediately after hearing the National Anthem. It felt much less crowded than it had the previous two years for some reason. We spent a few minutes waving at the cocktail sipping spectators sitting in a train before the gun fired and we began our journey back to Duluth.
Our plan was to gradually ease into our pace of 8:45-9:00 during the first 3 miles then hold that pace for the rest of the race. We both felt our training had prepared us for this pace and even if we slowed a little down the stretch, we would have enough cushion to still finish in under 4 hours.
The first half went great. After a perfect “3 mile fade in” we completed all of the remaining 10 miles with times between 8:39 and 9:03. Carl was talking and joking with me and the other runners around us during this period. People were asking me about the glove pinned to my back and I happily repeated the story several times. Things were going well.
Carl told me during mile 13 that he was going to stop talking and just focus on running. I told him that was smart and that I was planning on stopping at one of the several hundred portable toilets right before the half way point. We would both get a short breather before beginning the second half.
The temperature was very warm at start time and the sun remained shining throughout the race; the promised clouds never appearing. Every two miles there was a large flag displayed warning runners of potential weather hazards. It seemed that from the start the flags were red, warning runners of a “High Risk” of heat related health problems. As we started mile 14 the heat became noticeably more of an issue. We held the planned pace, but it began to require considerably more effort. As we approached the mile 15 marker I told Carl that we should slow down a little because of the heat. He told me he had to walk for a few minutes so we did. When we passed the next water station the race officials were taking down the red “high risk” flag and replacing it with a black “Extremely High Risk” one.
We walked for almost a half mile. I attempted to persuade Carl to run to the next water table at mile 19 but he wasn’t buying any part of that plan. I finally convinced him to try a three minute run, one minute walk interval for a while and see what he thought. We repeated this for perhaps a mile but each time we would stop running he would tell me he didn’t think he could do another one. I ignored his protests and continued announcing when we should walk and when we should run. Carl eventually quit running when I started so I knew I had to try different tactics.
I told him that we weren’t going be under 4 hours, but if we continued a slow jog for most of the rest of the race, he could still finish his first marathon in a faster time than I did my first (4:39). He said he didn’t care. A while later I reminded him that Nick, one of Red River Runners most accomplished runners, had completed his first marathon in a time around 4:47. I told him that he could still finish his first in a faster time than Nick. He informed me that he didn’t care about that either. I joked that I may have to resort to taunts like our trainer Martin used on one runner a few years ago. Carl glared at me and said that wouldn’t get him to run, it would only make him mad. I believed him and didn’t push it any further.
Around mile 20, there was a sign pointing to a spot where runners can drop out of the race for medical reasons and get transported to the end. Carl pointed at the sign and gave me a pleading look. I looked at my son and yelled “No!” “Don’t you even THINK about quitting!” Carl seemed to get my point and continued walking. He said he was getting too hot so I demonstrated how to take an ice cold sponge and push it against the top of your head and neck to cool off. He said it gave him a headache. I then demonstrated running through one of the many sprinklers people had set up for the runners. Carl said wet clothes would make him chafe. He finally grabbed a cup of ice and that seemed to give him a little spark.
We attempted to run one time during the long mile leading up to Lemon Drop Hill but needed to stop because his calf was cramping up. I took him to the curb to stretch out the calf and that seemed to help a little too. We continued walking. Near the top of the hill there was a huge beacon sign saying there were 4.1 miles remaining and that seemed to energize Carl greatly. When we got to the top I asked him if we could try one minute run and one minute walk intervals and he agreed to try.
The one minute run, one minute walk intervals turned out to be the ticket as Carl responded nicely. He became more animated, more talkative, and actually appeared to be enjoying the running more than the walking. We had a plan, it was working, so we continued. A few times Carl wanted to go longer than a minute but I warned him not to push it.
We continued through the final mile. We saw a photographer up in an aerial lift cart and Carl started flexing his muscles like he was modeling for a body building magazine. I asked him if he was a runner or a weight lifter and he said he really didn’t know. I said that tomorrow he may decide to be a weight lifter, but today he was definitely a runner. I asked him if he knew how I knew he was a runner today, and when he shook his head no I grabbed his shoulder and yelled with a smile “You’re going to finish a freaking marathon today son!”
Carl knew I wanted to cross the finish line with him but it totally shocked me when he reached down with 50 feet remaining and grabbed my hand into his. I briefly thought about the 24 week journey we were about to complete together and it brought a tear to my eye. He lifted our hands high and together we crossed the finish line as father and son. Tomorrow is Father’s Day and I know I’ve never received a gift as special as the one I received today! I love you Carl!