It Was The Best Of Times-It Was The Worst Of Times

Where do I start?  First of all, congrats to anyone who ran Grandma’s Marathon 2016. To put it lightly, it was brutal!

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Kim and I arrived Friday evening in Duluth and headed directly to the Expo.  Packet pickup was so quick and efficient.   We took a quick stroll through the rest of the vendors, but as we noted, if you’ve seen one expo, you’ve seen them all.

We then headed to the Residence Inn to check-in.  Originally, we had planned on having Rock and the baby here with us.  So we booked a one bedroom suite.  But with only the two of us there, we were pleasantly surprised to see just how spacious and awesome our room was.  Full kitchen, working fireplace, huge living area, great bathroom set up, and a nice big separate bedroom with a king sized bed.

After dinner, we spent the evening looking at various weather reports.  Many called for a strong chance of heavy thunderstorms and others said we would have a slight chance of rain and cloudy skies.  We figured we would wait and see what the morning brought.

We were up bright and early, ate some breakfast, and drove down the road to the Miller Hill Mall.  We boarded a yellow school bus and made the trek out to the start of the race.  We arrived with almost an hour to spare and after dropping our bags at gear check, we headed directly for the porta potta line.

Let me be real honest and say that this was the biggest disappointment about the race.  The set up was horrific and there were clearly not nearly enough facilities.  We waited in a slow moving line for 45 minutes.  We heard the National Anthem playing and I popped out of the porta potty with minutes to spare before the race began.  This left me unable to get to the correct starting pace group.  A race of this size should not have that huge of a lack of facilities.

This wasn’t a one time problem either.  Rock told me that last year he made it out just as the National Anthem was playing and had to dash to the start.  Waiting in a line for 45 minutes in the pouring rain in 2015 blew.  Waiting in line for 45 minutes in 2016 and wondering if you should skip going to the bathroom or miss the start is a major flaw.

Getting in the wrong start time didn’t seem to matter.  Grandma’s start is based on the honor system.  If you know me, I think runners are stellar people.  They are some of the greatest people around.  But there were some pretty dishonest start paces.  For three miles I wove around walkers.  I witnessed a girl in a Prince costume shoving and elbowing people as she ran in her purple spandex get up and wig (I have never seen that happen and was pretty appalled by her behavior).

Once I got into a groove I felt pretty good…..until Mile 5.  That was when I started seeing my paces slow down with every mile.  It was then that I noticed a pain in my toe that I had been sensing off and on for the past few weeks.  It started to sing and then wavered between bouts of severe pain and numbness.

The temperature before the race was 68°F.  By the time the race started it was 72°F and I heard that by 9:00am it was in the 80’s.

I struggled.  I struggled a lot both mentally and physically.  It was clear that I was not going to have a good race and it was clear that I was not going to get another BQ.  By mile 14, I called Rock and announced that I was going to drop out by mile 19 at the latest.  I was so upset with myself.  But he reminded me that it was better to be safe and do what my body needed.

I jogged to mile 16 and started walking towards the drop busses.  I called Rock and it didn’t go through.  Annoyed, I decided to stay the course and run to mile 19 where Kim’s dad was and hitch a ride back with him.

I ran and walked.  I struggled some more and made it to mile 19.  I couldn’t find Kim’s dad.  I called Rock and told him I was going to ride the bus back to the start.  He told me he was proud of me and I left feeling okay with my decision.  I felt there was no way I had 7 miles left in me.  But when I stood near the bus and reassessed, I decided to go as slow as possible to the next chance to drop and decide from there.

I watched as the alert levels on the course went from Moderate Risk, to High Risk, and then to Extremely High Risk.  Black flags were raised.  I have never been on a course where this has happened.

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I knew then that I was going to finish.  It was going to be slow.  It was going to be ugly.  But I was going to do it.  I knew that I wasn’t sick and my health wasn’t at risk.  But I also knew that we drove 7+ hours to get to Duluth and paid a lot of money to stay there.  I didn’t want to get home or wake up the next day and question, “What if?”

For the next 7 miles, I jogged when I could and walked when my calves cramped up.  I had no control over my legs and the cramping was so terrible, I nearly fell over several times.  I did what I could when my body allowed and was okay with walking when I needed.  The cramping only allowed me to run for a tenth of a mile at a time by the end.  I gave in and just followed my body’s lead.

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As Rock said, it was a humbling experience.  I ran this race an hour longer than my PR five weeks ago.  But it was a great reminder that the marathon truly never can be tamed.  It will always own you, regardless of how hard or how smart you train.  And running coaches are most definitely not invincible.

It was a disappointing experience and finish.  But in many ways, I am more proud of this finish than my PR and BQ last month.  It took everything in me to finish.  I struggled many times to finish and considered quitting a lot.  But I am so glad I pushed through and finished.  Mommy still doesn’t quit!

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Congrats to everyone who ran, finished, and those who might not have quite been able to get there.  If you run, you are a winner.  Thank you to the volunteers for helping aid us along the way!

30 thoughts on “It Was The Best Of Times-It Was The Worst Of Times

  1. Yeah it was a brutal and unfortunately it was my brother in laws very first marathon and his experience was not very good, I’m afraid it’ll be his last. He had cramping and fatigue setting in at mile 12 and he fought through the last 14.2 miles and just wanted to go home and didn’t even want to get the post race goodies which is one of my favorite parts of running.

    • I’m so proud of you. And tell your brother-in-law that marathons can be far more enjoyable than that. I have now done 5 and this was the only time I have ever felt like that. I too skipped the post race drinks and food and took a cab straight home. I hope he can take some time to reflect and perhaps choose a better (cooler) race to have his best experience at.

  2. Wow, that sounds brutal. And yeah, I totally get it that sometimes these rough races inspire more pride/sense of accomplishment than the PR races. Congrats on finishing!

  3. Congratulations on finishing the race! Every recap I have read sounds a lot like yours, the latter miles were extremely tough due to the rising temps and high humidity. I hate that you had to dodge walkers too, they really should have a corral system for a race that big. It still looks like you had a great trip and you should be really proud that you completed the race when so many did not!

    • Thank you so much. It was a great experience, in a very different way. I agree, they really should have a corral system for such a late race, especially considering how many people use this to BQ and even qualify for the Olympic trials.

  4. #mommydoesntquit. Period. Good on you. You ran a masterful race, and you have so much to be proud of! Grandma’s is a cult favorite race, but it isn’t easy.

  5. I’m sorry to hear about it being so tough, but I really appreciate the honest post. As a newer runner I think it’s important to see the bad, just not the good and to understand that sometimes things just don’t work out as you’d like.
    I’m so impressed with your mental drive to push through and finish. Thanks again for the honesty!

    • Thank you. Some races just stink, regardless of training. Things happen that are out of your control. It’s okay to have a bad race and then learn from it. Then you can make a new plan to move forward!

  6. I always hate reading about inadequate facilities on a course! My first half marathon they had only two porta-potties, were able to use the single men/women room one entry of the school where we started! Ugh! It is always tough, but I have never stood in line more than 20 minutes, normally 5-10. That is just poor planning.

    Sorry for the pain and struggles, but still good that you finished, The marathon truly is a beast that is ever changing … so many of my friends have struggled with challenging conditions (and annoying body issues) this year, it is really rough!

    Also – love the room! It is fun when you end up surprised with something cool like that!

    • The facility issue is a big one. It’s actually the only flaw of the race, but a major one. Every runner worries about the bathroom before a race! As for the room, I’m totally with you. Staying in a room that feels so nice and like being at home was a great thing. From a good night’s sleep, to a perfect kitchen to make my own breakfast, it made a difference. Having a comfy space to unwind was great too.

  7. Tip. Take the train from the parking area to the start instead of the bus. The train has bathrooms on board.

    I ran Grandmas in 2013. Mid 40’s, wind and rain. They put up a white flag due to hypothermia risk. What a difference a few years can make.

    I honestly don’t understand the black flag. Red flag is “extreme caution…run at your own risk”. Black flag is “race canceled”. If they black flagged the course, runners should not have been permitted to continue.

    Congrats on a hard race!

    • I know. I kept assuming that at any moment they were going to pull us off of the course. We considered the train but they emailed us the week before and announced that you had to arrive for the train at 4am. I opted for the extra hour of sleep!

  8. Great job of pushing on and making it through to the finish…sometimes, we learn so much more about ourselves and our sheer determination and will when things are going against us. And, despite the conditions and everything seemingly going sideways you still found a way to find some positives and finish. I think that is part of the spirit of marathon running…I had a tough marathon on Saturday as well, and ended up running a personal worst marathon time! At first, I was pretty deflated to say the least, but finishing 26.2 miles is an accomplishment in itself and after some contemplating, I’m happy with my effort and looking forward to my next opportunity in 3 weeks. Enjoy the rest and well earned celebrations!

    • Thank you for the kind words. So sorry to hear that you had a crappy race too. Looks like we both had a weekend of personal worst races. Sure it’s deflating, but sometimes we need a crappy race to help us appreciate the good ones and to remember that we are still human.

  9. Pingback: Basic Race Etiquette | Running On Healthy

  10. A friend of mine was at a half marathon two weeks ago. With an hour to go until race time, the porta potties had not been delivered yet! She was in a panic!
    Fortunately they did arrive before race time and they delayed the start my 30 minutes.
    You should be proud to have over come the conditions, finish and live to run another day.
    Have a great weekend.
    Andy

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