Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Grandma's Marathon...A Must-Do Destination Event

Grandma's Marathon. WOW. It was so much more than just a race.

When I registered for Grandma's Marathon, I did so to use it more as a training run than an actual race. Have I mentioned that I also have an ultra happening in less than four weeks ((gulp))? The mileage for the ultra (and, subsequent taper prior to said ultra) would fit in nicely with the timing of this marathon. Thus, I could say, in all honesty, I was running a marathon "just for fun." Consequently, I had a very dear friend tell me, as she shook her head in good humor, that I have a much different definition of "fun" than she does.

So, that's been my story all along (and I have stuck with it). I have mentioned how much more difficult it has been for me to train for a summer marathon than a fall marathon. My spring calendar is full of yearly  spring-time obligations (our school's We Care/After Prom committee as well as dance recital rehearsals and performances....so there's my April), but this year I also had an unexpected death in the family (my mother-in-law), a surprise birthday party for a sister-in-law, and our son's high school graduation...all within the month of May. Prior to that, I had been rehabbing some persistent aches and pains through physical therapy and maintaining a very conservative training regimen. Yadda Yadda Yadda. It's no secret my training was less than ideal, and I did have moments of doubt as to whether or not I should just take a pass on all of this....but my gut kept telling me I'd regret not trying. So, onward!
It's not a road trip without my Pepperoni Pizza Combos (carb-loading 101)

As with most of my races, my friend Barb came along as my partner in (running) crime. We departed at 8:15 on Friday morning to make the trek to Duluth, MN, we were guessing about a 7-hour drive (anticipating a few stops for gas, food, and occasional construction delays). We arrived in Duluth around 3:30, and headed straight to the expo to get our marathon race packets (we also were doing the William A. Irvin 5K, as part of The Great Grandma Challenge, that evening at 6:00PM, and needed to get those near the start line).

The expo was nice, but pretty crowded. We got our packets and walked around for awhile, and scoped out the vendors. I saw a booth where they were taping people's legs, and asked what to do for my foot. I had done a half marathon three weeks prior, and had some heel pain (that had worked it's way to my arch)....Plantar Fasciitis. I had been staying off of my feet (and out of my running shoes) for the past three weeks (except for a couple 10K's last weekend).  My legs (and wonky foot) were well-rested but I was still a little concerned how things would go over the course of 26.2 miles. I have never used any kind of sports tape, but the gal taped my heel and reinforced it around my ankle. Immediately, upon that first step, I could tell a difference. Granted, I was walking (and not running), but that gave me hope that things would be great for my races.
to tape or not to tape? It worked for me!!!
While at the exp, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Kelly (from Bubble Gum Runner)  in person. What a sweet gal!  We've known each other via our running pages, and it was fate (?) that brought both of us to Grandma's. Kelly had also been planning to do the 5K with us, but her coach advised against it (she was hoping to snag a BQ).
Yes! We met Grandma herself!

We didn't have a lot of extra time, so Barb and I headed to the check-in to get our 5K packets. Not wanting to walk all the way to the car, grab my running clothes, walk back to the expo, change clothes and then make another round trip to drop off the street clothes back in the car....I very sneakily changed clothes in the back seat of the car. Problem solved.

The William A. Irvin, docked in the harbor
So, people may wonder why we chose to run a 5K, 13-hours prior to the start of a marathon. Well, we had agreed that Grandma's was going to be all about the experience. It was not a quest for a PR; we had no concerns about pace, splits or finish time. We also knew our legs would be stiff and tired from the long car drive...why not do an easy 5K, shake out the legs, and make the best of it? Neither of us had run in Minnesota before, why not knock out a couple of events while we were there?
Ready for the William A. Irvin 5K
The temps were cool, and there was a gentle breeze coming off the lake. The race began, and took us along the road outside of our parking lot. It was a simple course (an out-and-back), noting fancy. My foot felt fine! It was almost like I'd never experienced Plantar Fasciitis! We finished in 28:27, just under a conservative 9:30 pace (I later learned I placed 8th out of 65 in my age group....woot woot!).

A final meet-up with Kelly before dinner
Once finished, we headed back to the expo for the spaghetti dinner. We met up again,briefly, with Kelly for a few minutes, and exchanged a few last-minute good luck wishes for the race, before heading to our hotel in Superior, WI.

Marathon day started with a 5:00AM wake-up call. I had all my gear laid out, and had gotten my fuel belt ready before bed, so all I had to do was brush the teeth, get dressed and go. After a quick breakfast, we were on our bus, headed to Two Harbors!

....let's just say it was a bumpy bus ride....

The eternal optimist, I was hoping all the weather forecasters were wrong in warning of us about the rain and possible thunder storms. The realist in me, though, brought along a garbage bag for a make-shift poncho. And it was over my body, reluctantly in place, before were stepped off the bus. Ugh.

Not a bag person or a hat person....but desperate times call for desperate measures

It was raining when we got off the bus, but within moments the rain quickly became an all-out downpour. Seriously? Momma N, what were you thinking? All of these runners, who had put in thousands of miles in training (and wearing expensive running shoes, none-the-less) were getting soaked. None of us like blisters...it's a gamble if you'll get one (or several) after 26.2 miles, but it's almost a guarantee you'll get one (or several) if you start the race in wet shoes. Fortunately, the realist (again) made a good decision in slathering Aquaphor all over her toes before sliding on her favorite wool socks. And that attractive hat? It totally (somewhat) saved the runner from looking like a drowned rat.

Luckily, as the race started, the downpour became more of a light sprinkling. Not ideal, but definitely much better than the heavy rain we'd just stood in for 45 minutes.

Off and running in the rain...
 Race day is NOT the time to experiment with fuel, but given my lack of consistent long training runs, I had not had much opportunity to try some different options. I have always used gels, but in recent months, the gels have been at war with my tummy. Sport beans have been alright, but not great. I decided to try fruit snacks (since they have a similar calorie count as gels) and use PlowOn Gum gum for my energy source. I was not running this marathon for a PR, and I wasn't entirely sure my foot would hold up for 26.2 miles...so I was willing to try a different fueling option.  

The race began. Having never run in a garbage bag, I was instantly annoyed by how hot it was underneath. I also had a jacket, as well as my arm warmers. By mile 2, the bag came off. I wasn't quite ready to toss it, so I twisted it up (kind of in a figure-8) and carried it. A short while later, the jacket came off as well. Much better!

I had been chewing a piece of the gum since the start line, and was amazed how easy it actually was to "run and chew" at the same time. I normally do not chew gum, but this was working! Just before the 5-mile mark, I ate my first fruit snack. So far, so good.

Barb and I agreed to run this race for fun, and we planned to stick with each other. I enjoy talking with other runners, and it's fun to check out all the different race shirts they're wearing. Already, within the first few miles, I had spotted some familiar shirts (because I had identical ones in my own collection!)....instant conversation! We chatted with other runners from Iowa, numerous runners who had run previous Grandma's Marathons, and a lot of runners who were embarking on their first 26.2! I even met a gal from Illinois, who had lost count on how many marathons she's run (she thought it was 24?)! She stayed with us for a few miles.
Aren't all of those evergreens beautiful?
The rain continued. The course (Old Highway 61) was absolutely beautiful, though. Constant evergreen trees  lined the road, and we could see glimpses of Lake Superior off to our left. I could feel the water sloshing around in my shoes. Definitely not an ideal scenario. Several years ago, I ran a half marathon, with the first 9 miles in the rain. I wasn't sure how 26.2 miles of rain would feel.

The miles really seemed to go quickly, though. There were porta pots at every mile marker, and water/Powerade stations at most of the markers as well. Some of the porta pots were in between the mile markers, so it felt like every half mile or so there was some form of a distraction. Also, there was constant crowd support!

Before we knew it, we at the halfway mark. A veteran Grandma runner told us there would be plentiful porta pots up ahead.....and they weren't kidding! Right at the 13.1 mile marker, there were porta pots! We're talking three long rows of porta pots...like you'd see at the start line of a race! They were probably all situated there because I believe that's where the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon started there, but it still was a most unique sight!

Porta pots aplenty

Still feeling good, we pressed on. The rain had stopped, but I was still carrying the twisted-up garbage bag (why I carried it for 10+ miles I'll never know!). I finally pitched it.  I had taken a second fruit snack around mile 9 or 10, so I popped another piece of gum. I had been taking water at every station, and grabbing a Powerade as well. The wonky foot had a little weird thing going on along the top of it, but the PF was a no-show and the taping seemed to work like magic. Every time I stopped to grab water/Powerade, I took a few seconds to stretch the quads and calves.

A few miles later, the clouds parted and we had sunshine! It wasn't long and I decided to shed the arm sleeves. Since rain (and storms) had been in the forecast, I elected to leave the sunglasses behind. I seldom ever run without sunglasses, but didn't want one extra thing to carry. Bad decision. Once the sun emerged, it got really bright, really fast. I love sunshine, but do not like squinting.

It was around mile 18 when I had that weird little sensation that my tummy wasn't feeling so happy anymore. I tried to ignore it, but started scanning the road up ahead for a porta pot...as a precaution. Remembering a recent half marathon, and the unfortunate runner who was the victim of a most embarrassing accident, I was eager for a brief pit stop.

It had been awhile since my last fruit snack, so I grabbed one from my belt and ate one as we made our way towards the next aid station. I grabbed a glass of water and gulped it down as I waited my turn in the porta pot line.

Back on the road, it occurred to me that we had passed our longest training-run distance a few miles ago....everything from here on out would be kind of "uncharted territory." We weren't even halfway to the next mile marker when I realized I'd need to stop again. Ugh. Thankfully the miles (in between the aid stations) were going fast, but this was annoying!

Barb was such a good sport to pull over every time, but by mile 22 I could tell it was getting difficult making a stop at almost every aid station. We were on the home stretch, and my tummy was feeling better, but I didn't know if I could make it the final four miles without stopping again.  It was a very frustrating situation.

The clouds had reappeared, so the bright sun wasn't an issue any more. Up ahead, I could see the bridge that was referred to Lemon Drop Hill. All the stopping and starting was wearing on me as well. I told Barb to go on ahead and finish strong, and I was going to walk for a minute. She had a lot more energy left than I did, and it wasn't fair to hold her back (I later learned that she passed 315 runners in those final miles!)

I grabbed another Powerade, and walked for a couple minutes. I glanced at my watch, and noticed the 4:30 time was not going to happen, but there was a chance I could still make 5 hours. I grabbed my last piece of gum and started running again.
approaching the finish line
I made it to mile 24, and although I was feeling better, I decided to make one last porta pot stop, just to play it safe. I had noticed my calves were starting to cramp a little, so I stretched them while I waited for my turn. I could tell my hamstrings and quads were feeling a little strained as well.

The final miles went well for the most part. We were back in Duluth, running on brick-paved streets. The crowds were amazing. Despite my frustration, I could still feel myself smiling. Heck, what's not to smile about? Two years ago (almost to the date) was when I started training for my first marathon. Prior to that, I never ever would have pictured myself running 26.2 miles...and yet, here I was....about to cross the finish line of my third marathon. Who would have thought?
miling and smiling, even with all the garb tied around my waist

I rounded the final corner at Canal Park, and spotted the finish line. I did my best to (somewhat) finish strong in that final stretch. I heard the announcer say my name. I saw the photographers giving me the thumbs-up. And I crossed the finish line. A sweet lady congratulated me as she put the medal around my neck.
It's not everyday you receive a flower at the finish line!

Barb was right there within seconds. We hugged. We posed for a few finisher pics. We grabbed our gear bags....and sat down with some food and chocolate milk. And, just like that, the rain reappeared (wouldn't ya know?). I texted Kelly to see how she'd done...and she got her BQ!!!!! She was back at her hotel (nearby), and was planning to come back after a quick shower...but with the rain falling, Barb and I decided to search for our bus and head back to our hotel.

As we were walking through the DECC (which had been the site of the expo), I spotted a gal up ahead of us who resembled Cher, a gal who I had recently become acquainted with via my running page on Facebook. We were hoping to meet up, but with the thousands of people (not all runners), it would be tough.  I took a chance and tapped her arm, and asked if she was Cher...and it was her!  The odds of finding each other was slim to none...but it happened. We chatted for a few minutes, and gave each other a congratulatory hug. I wished I would have taken our picture. Cher, if you're reading this...next time?
post race...yes, we were using the power blankets as sarongs
We found our bus and scored the final two available seats. After a humid, hot and long (45 minute?) ride back Superior, our hotel was the final stop (go figure). Since we couldn't get a late checkout (because the "late" checkout time ended before we'd even finished the race), we were given permission to come back and use the pool showers. What they failed to tell us was that the pool "showers" were actually in an open room, next to the pool (with an open doorway). Yeah, NOT happening. So, we snagged a few towels and locked ourselves in the women's restroom for 20 minutes, and each took a turn at the sink.  Another problem solved.

We were in the car and headed home by 3:30PM. And, we made several stops along the way back to Iowa to stretch our legs. How's that for a whirlwind trip?

So, how do I feel about marathon #3? Humbled, but proud! I knew, in going to the start line, not to expect or hope for a fast finish.  I have been distance running for over seven years, so I have a strong endurance base. I can run a half marathon without much training (and I had trained up to 15 miles), so I knew I was good for at least the first 15-18 miles. I was pretty confidant my strength and endurance would sustain me to the finish line, but I just wasn't sure how my foot would hold up. I knew I would have to eventually walk periodically during the final miles because of my less-than-ideal training. And, I also knew I needed to listen to my body and not push it much farther than it was able to go. I am still not completely healed from all my aches and pains, and with another big race coming up there was absolutely nothing to gain by trying to be a hero and "leaving everything out there on the course." What I did not plan for was the tummy stuff in those final eight miles (hello? porta pot stops at almost every opportunity LOL)

Overall, I felt great for most of the race. Despite the tummy issues, I never felt fatigued or finished. I have done three marathons, and have managed to avoid the dreaded "Wall" at all of them. So, what was up with my stomach? Was it the fruit snacks? The gum? The rushed breakfast at the hotel? I will never have a definite answer, but I suspect it was the combination of the fruit snacks with all of the Powerade. I have heard you're not supposed to mix electrolyte drinks with energy gels, so I'm betting that was a factor. Although I was indeed sweating, I was not over-heated and certainly not dehydrated. I probably shouldn't have been drinking it at every stop. I never had any accidents (thank goodness for all of those porta pots!), but it is nerve-wracking running and not knowing if you're gonna make it to the next stop or not. I probably lost (gained?) a good 20 minutes (or more) in all of my stopping and waiting in line for the porta pots.

Would I have liked to have finished faster? Absolutely! I love a PR as much as the next runner, but I did not train for a PR. I did very limited speed work, kept my mid-week miles to a minimum (per my physical therapy instruction), and had numerous challenges in getting my long runs completed in a timely fashion. I am OK with all of that. Really, I am. Right now, at this point in my life, my family is front and center. I will have much more "free time" in a few years (when all the kids are out of the house), and if I train smart right now and avoid further injury (by not over-training), my endurance and strength will be even greater. Then, I can focus more on speed and PR's (at least that's my game plan).

It's been two days, and already my body feels recovered (but I know I'm not as recovered as I feel). Already, the thought of marathon #4 is dancing around in my head...I just know it will not be happening in 2015. After my ultra next month, I might do a couple fall half marathons (and a handful of smaller distance events), and let myself have a proper recovery. Constant training is a recipe for constant injury, and I'm not willing to go down that road.


  1. Kim!!! Great recap. I'm so proud of you. Rest up....Xmas in July is coming up soon.

  2. Congrats on a great marathon! Loved this recap. And Bubble Gum Runner got her BQ!

    1. It was an awesome event!!!!! (cough cough) ((girls' weekend)) (2016) ((just saying)

  3. Great job!!! I am so bummed I missed meeting all of the people I intended to meet! Next time hopefully!

    1. I'm bummed we couldn't find each other...we'll have to find another race, I guess :-)

  4. Congrats on a great run :) Looking forward to seeing you in July!

  5. Yey!!! Another marathon in the books! Great recap! I've only had to runs race in the rain once. I wore my trash bag for 7 miles and then carried it the rest of the way too. I was too afraid to ditch it!! Can't wait til your 50K!

    1. Thanks!! I'm excited for the 50K, too! (and about that garbage bag....no idea why I kept it for 10 miles...it's not like I wasn't already wet LOL)

  6. Hi, I saw your comment on the Tripping the Kenyans blog and when you mentioned Grandma's Marathon I just had to come check out your blog. I also ran it this year. Great recap! How funny - I am also from Iowa (originally) and I think I might have seen you at the race because of your blue tank top...I was wearing the same one! Small world :)

    1. Too funny!! It seems like I did see someone else in the same (or similar) tank top as mine.....I was probably so focused on the next available porta-pot that I had to sacrifice chatter for "business." I thought Grandma's was amazing, and it's definitely an event I'd like to do again. Happy running!!!

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