Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN, was more like a 26.2 mile long block party than an organized race. The weather was cool, the people were friendly, the course was beautiful– and I PRed by 16 minutes!
The race morning alarm seemed to come extra early after only 2.5 hours of sleep. I was out late the night before exploring downtown (after working 12 hours on my feet!). I refueled at the hotel’s continental breakfast with two packets of instant oatmeal, a banana and two T. peanut butter.
The weather was chilly (with a chance for rain) at the start. I spent almost the entire 30 minutes before race start in line waiting for a glorious portapotty. I was freezing!
After taking care of my pre-race business I lined up at the start line between the 4:30 and 5:00 pace groups. My goal was to finish in 4:45, although I didn’t take that too seriously considering my lack of sleep and long day of work the day before. Everyone at the start was so friendly. I had a few conversations with runners who asked about my Zensah calf sleeves. (I love them- see here.)
I was excited. I had an amazing few days in Duluth and was determined this would be a fun race. All the racers around me had huge Minnesota smiles on… it was contagious
A lululemon lover myself, I always check out what all the runners are wearing. I couldn’t get over this guy running the marathon in jean shorts and a cotton T-shirt!!
The course was a straight 26.2 miles along Lake Superior, then into downtown Duluth and finished in Canal Park. I would think a straight shot would be boring, but the scenery was too breathtaking to think anything negative.
I am accustomed to marathons like Disney or Gasparilla where there are huge crowds of cheering fans, big displays and organized entertainment. Grandma’s had none of that! Instead it was like a giant block party where everyone came out to support the runners in their own small way. Definitely a great small-town feel.
The course was mostly flat, but it seemed to have several small, gradual hills. I liked it quite a bit as opposed to just a few large hills.
I started running by listening to my body. As I said, I didn’t know what to expect- but I also wanted to make sure I came in under 5 hours (my marathon PR was 5:02:43). Surprisingly, what felt comfortable was pretty fast for me!
Mile 1- 9:59
Mile 2- 9:26
Mile 3- 9:49
Mile 4- 9:49
Mile 5- 9:45
Mile 6- 10:26
Mile 7- 10:18
Mile 8- 10:34
Mile 9- 11:57
Mile 10- 9:22
Mile 11- 9:51
Mile 12- 10:13
Mile 13- 9:58
Mile 14- 10:09
Mile 15- 12:32
Mile 16- 12:03
Mile 17- 12:39
Mile 18- 11:45
Mile 19- 12:06
Mile 20- 12:45
Mile 21- 10:32
Mile 22- 10:30
Mile 23- 12:14
Mile 24- 11:14
Mile 25- 11:15
Mile 26- 10:30
Mile .2- 9:55
I have no idea why Mile 9 was so slow, but soon after that I ended up tagging along with the 4:30 pace group. I knew I wasn’t going to finish in 4:30, but since I was keeping up with them anyway I thought it would be worth the extra encouragement. Star, the group’s leader, was extremely fun and encouraging. Next marathon I am definitely going to considering running the race with a pace group.
Keeping pace with a big group revealed a lot about my perception of what I can handle. We would maintain the same speed up and down hills. At times I was sure my body needed to stop and that everything hurt… but then a few minutes later it felt easy again. I think running is all about sticking out those tough moments. Our bodies can be funny.
Yes, all the runners did the motions to YMCA. I’m telling you- this race was FUN.
My pre-marathon routine was so off. I worked a long day, got no sleep, hardly drank any water and didn’t stretch out at all. My legs hated me for not stretching and hurt terribly in specific areas. The backs of my thighs, knees and left ankle hurt- a lot. I stuck with the 4:30 group and pushed through the pain before I dropped back at Mile 15 to stretch it out.
My splits for Miles 15-20 slowed down quite a bit. I was still running, but I would have to stop periodically to try to stretch out the pains that were getting worse. I made a point to not stop for more than a few seconds at a time. I’ve learned that stopping during a run is the hardest thing to overcome. My legs always feel like lead for the remainder of a long run if I stop for more than a few seconds.
At Mile 17 I had a Clif Shot and half a banana a mile after that. Surprisingly my belly handled it well and didn’t hurt like it usually does when I eat while running!
The first 20 miles went through straight nature (with Lake Superior to our left). Around Mile 20 we entered a residential area. This is when the block party really took off!!
There was lots of beer on the course! At one section there was a ton of shirtless college guys who would chase girls to give them high-fives. Everyone sat outside their homes- some offering amateur music to the runners… other offering beer, Jolly Ranchers or a hose to cool off with.
After Mile 20 was the turning point for me. I was still doing okay, but I was moving more slowly and everything was starting to hurt a lot. I zoned everything else out and focused on my goal. I wanted to see 4:45 on that clock when I finished. It would be a huge PR and I knew deep down I could do it. After all, I had only six miles left and I can do anything for six miles. And, with a refreshed sense of urgency, I was off! Everyone else was hitting their wall and slowing down, but I powered on chanting “goal! goal! goal!” and “pain is inevitable-suffering is optional” in my head!
Around Mile 22 came the one big hill of the race- Lemon Drop Hill. It was a two-part hill that came at a very inconvenient time. I slowed my pace down doing up the hill and ran all the way down and on.
Encouraging messages were everywhere- even on the highways! This sign read: Great Job Runners!
The challenge was on when I looked at my Garmin to see I was at 22 miles at four hours. Four more miles in 40-ish minutes? Game on!
The last few miles brought us through downtown Duluth. I’m a sucker for downtown areas, especially when filled with cheering locals. The energy gave my tired, achy muscles the energy to run to that finish line!
The final 1.5 miles were tough. My Garmin ready 26.2 about .8 miles before the actual finish line. I made myself a promise to push through til 26.2- but I hadn’t thought about beyond that!
At the last .1 miles a sneaky female runner tried to pick up pace and pass me. I was not going to let that happen so I sprinted to the finish line.
Chip time was 4:45:49- the goal I wanted but wasn’t sure I could achieve- and a 16 minute personal record!!!!
It felt good to finish that race! I immediately sat down for a few minutes before getting some food and then walking several blocks to meet my taxi. After a tough marathon I had to rush to the airport to make a early flight home. It ended up being the longest day of travel ever and I wasn’t able to shower for 24 hours (eww!), but I didn’t care. I had an awesome marathon!
Here are my final results:
My training for this marathon wasn’t spectacular. I cut most long runs short thanks to the crazy Florida heat, and my longest run was only 19 miles.
So why did I PR by 16 minutes!?
Here’s what I’m thinking:
- I’ve been doing a lot more ab work. I think a stronger core made the last miles much easier.
- I’ve recently lost a few pounds. Less weight = faster time?
- I had on a Power Balance bracelet. I bought this at the expo. Check it out here.
- Lastly, I ran a few miles the day before the marathon. I always run two days before and take the day before the race off. I think the few easy miles so close to the race helped me avoid that tired, heavy leg feeling.
It was a fun race that gave me tons of hope for future races in terms of time and how much I push myself. The course and people were amazing. I hope to run Grandma’s Marathon again next year- and hopefully PR again!
Do you set time goals before races? What has been your biggest PR?