Grandma's Marathon 2018
If you are from Minnesota, you know about Grandma's Marathon. It is iconic -- both for the race and for the party that happens afterward. It has been on my radar since I ran my first marathon in 2015 but because of timing, it never worked out.
I'll be honest, it is a major commitment and not just because of the running. You have to be in town Friday night -- there is no packet pick-up on race day and the start time makes it nearly impossible to drive in Saturday morning. My only other marathon experiences were at the Twin Cities Marathon where I woke up at a comfortable time and got dropped off blocks from the start line in downtown Minneapolis. So this was a new experience for me.
The lead-up had me incredibly anxious. Would I fall asleep? Would I oversleep? Would I be able to get to the buses on time? Would I be cold at the start line? Friday night, the weather for Saturday's race looked terrible. Thunderstorms, tons of ran. There was even talk about the race being delayed or shortened because of the weather.
For me, the biggest mental hurdle was my anxiety over getting to the start line. You start in Two Harbors and run south into Duluth but you aren't allowed to drive to the start line. So you have two options -- take the bus or take the North Shore Scenic Railroad (which holds 1,000 people). I assumed the train would fill up right away so I made John drop me off at 4:50am in hopes of getting a spot.
If you can get a spot, the train is amazing. I ate my breakfast, read a book and had time to relax before we got into Two Harbors. It was the security I needed heading into the race, a calm, hassle-free morning. The train also has bathrooms -- if you are okay with some sloshing, it is better than waiting in line for the Porta Potties at the start.
The race itself was gorgeous. The weather held off -- we had complete cloud cover, light wind and low 60s for a majority of the race. The course is fairly flat and the road is in good condition which is great for inexperienced runners. At some points along Lake Superior, the fog rolled through the woods onto Old Scenic Highway 61 giving everyone a magical view.
For a lot of the race, there are no spectators. The only people you see besides runners are the amazing volunteers who staff the water stations. It was a very different experience compared to the Twin Cities Marathon, which is lined with spectators. While some might find it isolating, I thoroughly enjoyed the quiet -- me, my music and the sounds of my running shoes hitting the pavement.
I saw my boyfriend John for the first time at Mile 24. Knowing he was waiting for me was the perfect push through town. Down London Road, beyond Glensheen Mansion, up Lemon Drop Hill. Passed Fitger's Brewhouse. There he was, with Huma Gels and Jelly Belly Sports Beans in his hands. A quick pep-talk rally with our friend Mike and Megan (our amazing hosts for the weekend) and I was on my way to the finish line.
"You get to the ship and it's over!" That's what they told me. So when I made the turn on Harbor Drive and saw the big old ship, I thought I was done. Nope. Not even close. The last half mile was the hardest part of the race for me; not being able to see the finish line was mentally defeating for me. The final push at the Twin Cities Marathon is a wide open hill and you see the finish line stretched out in front of you the entire way down. Grandma's ends with a maze of curves before the finish jumps out at you right in Canal Park. I wish I had known what to expect -- my fault, totally. I should have driven the course but there wasn't enough time on Friday night. It would have made the final minutes of the marathon a lot more enjoyable and I would have likely hit a PR.
My goal was to finish. Nothing fancy, just get my feet across the finish line. Somehow it ended up being my best race yet. Not because of my time -- I finished a little over two minutes behind my 2015 time. It was my best race yet but because of how I felt, during and after the race. I was committed to my training runs in the months leading up to Grandma's but had also been focusing on building my strength through my small-group training sessions at Life Time Fitness. The entire race I felt strong, in control. I actually didn't take my first walk break until mile 21 -- something I've never done before. I didn't know it was possible for me to run like that. But my body felt great and I was able to push through the mental fatigue that started wearing on me around mile 17.
I was actually surprised by how good I felt after the race. Sure, I was exhausted. But it wasn't debilitating, like my first marathon. My first marathon, I could barely get out of bed on day two of my recovery. This time, I was back at the gym Monday night -- right back into my normal strength routine. It was a night and day in comparison. And I know it was because this time around, my body was in a position to handle the marathon. My cardio endurance was exactly where I needed it to be; I never felt winded, never had a side cramp and my legs felt strong and capable.
With Twin Cities Marathon coming up on October 7th, I'm slowly getting back into race mode. Running, yes. A lot. But also focusing on building strength and watching my nutrition. Adding more protein into my meals, drinking lots of water. All of these things are easy changes to make in the short term but over three months, it can get monotonous, tiring. So I'm making sure I don't get ahead of myself and am instead taking it week by week. This will be my third time running Twin Cities Marathon -- my first endeavor was a success, my second came to an end around mile 23 when I realized my body was not going to be able to finish the last three-ish miles. So I called it a day, right there in front of the University of St. Thomas and we went to The Nook to get burgers. This time? I'm committed to making sure my body is ready to go on race day. It will be my fifth race as a member of Team Superstars, a group of charity runners raising money for Children's Minnesota. I joined Team Superstars in 2015 and have a hand-shake agreement with them that I'm in for every race from here on out. I'm genuinely so honored to be a part of something so amazing and can't wait to see what Team Superstars is able to do this October. Our team for Grandma's raised nearly $80,000 -- can't wait to blow that number out of the water in a couple of months!