Heading into the Half Marathon at Grandma’s Marathon, I expected some pretty big things. I knew my fitness was there, and definitely the best it’s ever been for endurance running. I knew the course was relatively flat and quite fast. I knew the weather (because of my OCD checking of it) was going to be pretty ideal for PR racing conditions. But race day can always bring the unexpected… and when the unexpected happens you have some decisions to make.
My husband, son and I headed to Duluth on Thursday. We left Omaha in the morning with a short flight to Minneapolis, knowing we had a bit of a drive after to get to Duluth. The drive was timed well with nap time, something parents know they need to plan out to have a happy kid on the trip!
I wanted to go to the expo and the famous Grandma’s Grill and Saloon restaurant before too many other runners got into town. With the expo opening at four, we went to the beach and park to kill some time because toddlers… Gotta keep them busy! Parker and I may have gotten soaked by this wave! We both laughed it off, but the water felt good!
We arrived at the expo just after it opened and it was already pretty busy! Parker wasn’t really having it, so we didn’t do much exploring of the vendors. I definitely could have spent some time (and money…) there as there were a ton of vendors! We grabbed a few free samples, my bib and headed to the Saloon and Grill for an early dinner. Turns out we all decided to carb load with some pasta meals, even though I was the only one doing the racing over the weekend!
Friday morning I headed out to a nice trail across the street from our hotel (we stayed in Superior, Wisconsin… just outside of Duluth. Prices were a little bit cheaper and we figured it’s sometimes nice to be a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the race weekend.) I ran out to the end of Barker’s Island and back to our hotel for drills and strides. What a beautiful day for a run!
Post run, shower and breakfast we went to the Duluth Children’s Museum. Our sight seeing on trips has changed a little bit, but it’s so fun to see Parker having fun on vacations as well. Lunch was the usual burger, and a friend recommended trying out 7West. It was yummy! Friday afternoon the McKirdy crew was getting together for a meet and greet, chat and questionnaire. It was so fun to meet other McKirdy Trained athletes, hear about their running histories and goals for the race! James and Heather gave some great racing advice as well! Friday evening we had our usual pre-race pizza dinner and then settled into our hotel for the rest of the evening. Legs up the wall, lay out all the supplies, and SLEEP! It would be an early alarm Saturday!
As I said… early alarm! It went off at 3:45… and I jumped right out of bed! I was excited to get up and get going for the day. I had a pretty good feeling that the day would turn out well if I just focused on my goals.
I got dressed, put on my extra layers (thanks for the good prices, Goodwill!) and headed down to the hotel lobby for breakfast. They opened up the breakfast two hours early for all the runners. So thankful for that! I chowed down on some oatmeal, orange juice, and a banana. I took a water bottle and granola bar to eat on the bus to the start line as well, because the race wouldn’t start for another two hours yet!
The shuttle buses were leaving from the hotel across the street, so I headed over to wait. There were a ton of runners waiting around for the 4:30 shuttle to arrive. Next thing we know it’s 4:35… no buses. Then 4:40… still no buses! At 4:42 one of the drivers arrived and told us we were all in the wrong spot, and needed to head across the street to Perkins, where the buses were leaving from. Everything in our newsletters and online (I checked last night!) said we were leaving from the Holiday Inn… so I guess the bus drivers were all wrong? Or the website? Regardless, we were on the buses and on our way to the start line, just a few minutes later than originally planned!
The ride was pretty quick and the sunrise was beautiful! Once we arrived, a friend and I headed towards the bag drop. Once close, I took off on my 15 minute warm-up jog. It was slow and crowded and I did a lot of loops back and forth on the road where all the runners were walking up to get to the bag drop and start line. Once I was back, I did my drills as my friend took off on his warmup jog (we watched each others bags during that time). Once done with that, we dropped off our bags, hit the port-o-potties one last time and headed towards the start line. We were in a little bit of a panic mode here… thinking these were the last of the last of the portopotties and it was so crowded! If hindsight were 20/20 we should have kept going a little further. WAY more potties closer to the start line, WAY less people, WAY more room to run and do drills and strides. So… if you’re doing the half at Grandma’s next year… KEEP GOING FORWARD. The grass really is greener on the other side. (Or the port-o-potties really are cleaner…?)
I found some other Instagram friends near the start line (at the 7 minute pace signs) and it was so great to meet in real life! I took my first Spring Gel (Speednut, which is 250 calories!) with about 10-15 minutes until the start time. They announced 5 minutes to go, so I stripped off my extra layers (but kept the sleeves over my arms from my jacket,) and kept sipping my water. We scooted closer to the start line again (at this point hanging out by the 6 minute pace signs)… there really was way more space than necessary. I’ve never been at a start line where everyone was so spread out. At this point we were probably still 50 yards away, thinking they’d announce with 1 or 2 minutes to go and we’d scoot even closer. But then the gun just went off! There were no extra announcements after 5 minutes left til the start! So many of us were taken by surprise… we thought it was a mistake until we saw those in front of us running! So we jogged to the start and BOOM, started our watches and we were off!
My coach gave me some race plans in advance and I felt comfortable with them. She said she’d like me to start the first 5k about 7:05-7:10 pace (my PR half marathon average is 7:06… so right on that!). Two minutes into we passed a few banks with the time of 6:15 am. So maybe we started two minutes early? Also, we had such a clear day that we could see the finish line at this point in time. I remember chatting with my friend… asking if he saw that bridge in the distance, and telling him we get to run right up to it! He was not thrilled with this announcement!
The first few miles ticked by and I was feeling great! They were 7:04, 7:04, 7:04. Whoa! Talk about control. I was surprised by a few small rollers here. My coach had alerted me to them beforehand, saying that while the elevation map does in fact look like it’s flat until about 4 miles to go, that there were a few small rollers. She gave me the advice of not looking at my pace while going up, to stay relaxed and not push. I checked my pace at the crest of every hill to see my pace a few seconds slower than goal (about 7:09-7:10) but by the bottom of each hill I’d be right back on that goal pace, closer to 7:05. Perfect! I grabbed the Powerade whenever I had the chance, so right about mile two in this section.
My second 5k my coach said to shoot for closer to 7:00-7:05 average. Just slightly quicker, and shooting for that new PR. These miles were 7:03, 7:03, 6:55 (decent descent on the 6th mile). Somewhere in the 4th mile I felt my stomach to start to… gurgle. It felt a little off earlier in the morning but I was hoping it was race day jitters and I’d “get it all out” at the hotel and after my warm-up jog. That’s what usually happens… but I guess not quite today. Nothing to be concerned about yet. More Powerade when the option came up. Around my 5th mile I also took my Spring Energy gel. It went down easy! I love the canaberry (strawberry) flavor and how easily I can take these gels compared to others.
My coach said once hitting half way, to shoot for 6:55-7:05 range. Still in the PR pace, but slightly bigger range as there’s still some rollers. Time to turn on the engines! Except, that gurgling was increasing some. Nothing to be worried about, yet. I told myself keep running and pushing hard until it becomes an emergency. So I kept running and pushing the pace until my stomach was all I could focus on. Mile 7 was 7:09 average. Nothing to be worried about, because there was a decent amount of climbing after the last mile of descent. But then the 8th mile was right about 7:10 pace too, and the course had flattened out. I could tell that I was losing focus on the race and pushing my pace because I was concerned about my stomach. By 7.5 miles I knew I’d have to stop, or I’d keep slowing down and maybe become the next running meme (and ain’t nobody got time for embarrassing internet pictures being shared because all runners talk about poop.) So I made the decision to pull over at the next potty stop. That happened to be 7.8 miles. Try as I might to have an epic 10 second poop stop like Shalane Flanagan… that’s not how it worked out. I needed to make sure I took care of all of it. I didn’t stop my watch, and I didn’t look at exactly when I got in and out, but I’d guess it took me almost two full minutes. Time goes by REALLY quickly in the bathrooms. Like at warp-speed!
On my watch, the 8th mile clicked by in 8:58. I had a decision to make. I knew I wouldn’t PR now unless something magical happened. I could just run easy to the finish, enjoy the beautiful course and great weather day the Race Gods gave us… or I could fight for every single second of that two minutes I lost in the bathroom. Recently Gabe Grunewald, a professional runner for Brooks and Minnesotan native passed away. One of her quotes was “It’s okay to struggle. It’s not okay to give up.” I remembered this quote as I exited the bathroom and decided to fight. This was a struggle, and minor one at that, but it won’t beat me. It won’t make me give up. About a quarter mile later a fan was holding a sign with this very quote. I took it as a confirmation of my decision to fight. My ninth mile was back on pace, at 6:58.
I had a chance at something here. Again, probably not a PR. But I had a chance to finish strong. To use my training and current fitness level to do something I’ve never done before. To not give up on myself. To not go into a “dark spot” that so many get into during a race. I zeroed in on my plan and went for it. Mile 10 was 7:00… with a good amount of uphill. Mile 11 7:00 flat, with a good amount of curves and winding roads, trying to keep tight on the tangents. Mile 12, 6:44, even with having to hurdle a poor lost pigeon who doesn’t understand that it needs to get out of the way when runners are coming (yes I did also scream). I was feeling strong. I was a force to be reckoned with into the finish.
Mile 13 we ran almost directly into the wind we had at our backs for the previous 12 miles. All the sudden it’s slammed into your face as we are shoved into a much smaller road than we had the entire rest of the race. The 13th mile feels long. Here we do a bit of a circle, having already ran past the finish line. We have a lot of turns, and zig-zagging. My 13th mile was another 6:44. I knew I was close to the finish line, that I ran the tangents pretty well. I pushed, with everything I had, fighting for every lost second. My last 200 meters into the finish line was at 6:16 pace. This is the fastest and strongest I’ve ever finished a half marathon.
I’ve never had my last 5k be the fastest in any race, until today. I’ve never ran so very consistently (minus the poop mile) until today. I’ve never executed a race plan, nutrition plan as well as I did today. No, I didn’t PR. I was 47 seconds shy of my PR, finishing in 1:33:44. But I could have been two full minutes shy of my PR. I fought and pushed hard for that extra 107 seconds that I earned in the last 5 miles. I passed 11 people and was passed by zero in the last mile of the race. I never gave up. There are WAY more positives in this non-PR race than I’ve ever had in any race I’ve set a PR. Of that, I am proud.
I finished in 1:33:44, as the 70th female out of 4,613 and 301st out of 7,480 runners overall. My 21st state and 26th half marathon are over. Grandma’s race weekend was magical. I’d truly suggest you run in Duluth and feel the magic of this race. This is a beautifully scenic course, in a very hospitable city. Even though I didn’t get a shiny new PR, it’s definitely one of my favorite races I’ve completed to date. Not sure what’s next, besides New York City Marathon this fall… Hopefully another half marathon before the big apple, but nothing as of right now!
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