Two years ago, Grandma’s Marathon, a point-to-point race along Lake Superior ending in Duluth, MN was a goal race for me. I worked my ass off in training and was feeling confident for a good race. Then three weeks before the race, everything started to fall apart. Long story short, I did not end up running race…despite going out there to cheer anyway.
This year, Grandma’s Marathon again became a goal race for me. I put together a training plan I was very excited about that included many half marathons incorporated into my long runs. Unfortunately, little went according to plan. I still ran five half marathons, three 10ks, and a 5-mile race, but I spent much of the last three months dealing with a really frustrating hip injury. Thanks to that injury, I ended up with hardly any training—as seen below in those screenshots that are sized way too small to actually read 🤷.
I knew going into the weekend I should have the ability to get to the finish line. I expected it to be a shitshow, but this isn’t my first rodeo and I’ve been unprepared for marathons before—hello, almost every time I run Goofy/Dopey Challenge.
Grandma’s is a Saturday race so I flew out on Thursday to give myself a little time to not rush before the race. I flew into Minneapolis-St Paul which left me a two and a half hour drive to get to Duluth. Everything for my travel was entirely uneventful and I showed up at the hotel with plenty of time to check in, relax for a bit, and then walk over to the expo. The expo was pretty dead when I got there and I was able to get my stuff right away, do a quick lap, and get out.
Unfortunately, I’m two for two at crying at the Grandma’s expo now. Two years ago, I was crying over my DNS, this year I was crying over being laid off literally the day before. Oh well, shit happens. I’m fine (for real).
Friday was an easy chill day. I hung out at a coffee shop for a bit to get some stuff done, walked around downtown and the finish area, did a shakeout run with my friend Sophie, watched Kara Goucher speak, and then grabbed dinner with my friend Kimmie. It was a nice day and just what I needed to get my spirits back up and accept my layoff. I spent most of the day with a big smile on my face.
Since Sophie’s hotel was still back in Minneapolis, I offered to let her crash in my room the night before. We woke up around 5am, threw our clothes on, and walked over to the buses to the start. We had hoped to make the train, but it seemed as though we ended up being a few minutes too late for that so we hopped on one of the school buses.
The ride over was relaxed and Sophie got to experience pre-marathon Amelia who doesn’t like marathons. Like, let me tell you, in the week before marathons leading right up to the starting gun, I hate the marathon. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. And I’m miserable to be around because all I do is complain about it.
We got to the starting area very early. The temperature was cool, but with some humidity. At points, there were sprinkles, but not much. The forecast called for rain around noon, but clear skies during most of the race.
Anyway, after hitting the porta-potties and checking our bags, we split up. Sophie was going for a BQ so she seeded herself a bit ahead of where I did since I was planning on taking it nice and easy. I was surprised the start corral was entirely self-seeded. It’s not a massive race, but it’s still 8,700 runners. I expected there to be some sort of predefined corrals. For the most part, everyone seeded themselves according to the pacers in the corrals. I lined up right next to the 3:45 pacers. I had planned to run a 3:50, but there was no pacer that and I was confident I could hang at 3:45 even without much training. But as the corrals filled and we got walked up, I ended up quite a bit in front of the pacers before the race started. Honestly, I don’t know why I even bother. I haven’t actually run with a pace group for a marathon in nearly four years.
The wait in the corral seemed like it was ages and I was antsy to get the shitshow on the road. Eventually, with little fanfare, we were off!
I didn’t have a solid race plan other than to just keep it steady and easy early on. I started off extra slow trying to let the 3:45 pace group catch up to me. It took a while, but they finally did…only to have me drop them again pretty quickly after that. As I fell into my natural rhythm, I noticed I was running quite a bit faster than planned, but my effort was really easy. Because I run by effort, I trusted the feel over any numbers. Though, I had my watch switched to manual lapping so my mile splits were exact to the mile markers instead of whatever GPS approximation I was going to get from my Garmin. This at least allowed me to keep a read on what my feel was translating to. I only ever check my watch on the mile, never in between.
Even though my effort was very low, my legs didn’t feel great. It wasn’t a feeling of them being worked, but more just them not wanting to be running at all. I know my body well enough to know not to worry about that feeling so I did my best to ignore it. However, I did check in on my heart rate regularly. Even though I was running by feel, I wanted that information available to me. Through the first half of the race, I was 147-151 which is nice and low.
While it was cool before the race, the sun was now out and it was warming up quickly. The temperature was much higher than I’d prefer for a marathon. When I could, I favored the left side of the road which had off-and-on shade, only breaking from that to hit the tangents around right turns. The race has very few turns, but there are a lot of curves in the road.
Crowd support was rather light. There would be some groups of people cheering when we’d pass by a lodge or something on the side of the road, but mostly it was a very quiet first half.
The few times I had looked at the elevation chart, it looked like it was relatively flat race with a 100ft net downhill. I guess I didn’t look close enough at the scale, though, because I was surprised to find the course is pretty much rolling hills the entire time. There aren’t really any big climbs, but you’re rarely running flat. Some runners enjoy this variation, but most of my miles are logged on very flat routes so I’m not in the kind of hill shape I used to be. I was glad I had run the hills in Central Park the last three weekends before the race. At least that was something.
Anyway, I kept my effort very even though the first half of the race, but if you look at my splits, there is a lot variation from the hills. I didn’t increase or decrease my effort while going up or down, I just kept doing what I was doing.
As we approached the halfway mark, there were more and more people cheering. Because there is also a half marathon that starts at the 13.1 point, the set up was still there and I guess people hung around to cheer. This was a nice little boost.
I crossed the half at 1:49:42.
Miles 13.1 to 26.2
Checking in with my body at the halfway point, I was liking how I was feeling. I felt like I should have a negative split in the cards if I kept up what I was doing. However, it was getting quite warm. I had been sweating pretty heavily for most of the race already and while I was taking water at most stops, I wasn’t getting that much down.
The next few miles ticked off like nothing while I kept things steady. My heart rate eventually started creeping into the upper 150s, but nothing I was worried about.
By mile 17, I was in the best of moods. I had a big smile on my face and just couldn’t stop thinking about how much I love the marathon. This kept up through most of mile 19. That mile was a pretty big downhill and my second fastest mile of the race. By this point I had stopped worrying too much about my effort level and let it creep up a little when it felt right.
The reason why I say “most of mile 19” up there is because things changed pretty quickly for me. Before I even got to the mile marker, I went from “aw haww” to “oooohhhhh noooooo.” Things started feeling harder and I was no longer having such an easy time. I was still okay, but I knew it wouldn’t be a fun seven miles to the finish. My biggest problem was the dehydration must have started setting in because I started getting nauseous. I would end up dealing with this nausea to different degrees for the remainder of the race.
The one plus side here, though, was that we had started to make it into town and there were people out cheering and playing music. As I crossed the 20th mile marker, I knew I was good to make it to the finish, but that I wouldn’t be enjoying the last 10k. I just said to myself “it’s basically just one lap around Central Park…without Harlem Hill.”
Miles 21 and 22 felt fooooorever long. I was still keeping a pretty reasonable pace, but I felt like I was going slower. The 22nd mile marker was at the base of basically the last climb of any decent length. When I saw the hill coming, I knew I was going to be struggling to get up it so, as soon as I hit it, I switched into a strong arm swing to power myself up. I think it was about 80% my arms that got me up there. That and seeing Kimmie cheering and screaming in my face.
Crossing the 23rd mile marker, I slightly lied to myself and said “okay, just a 5k to go.” I didn’t worry too much about that other .1. We were starting to get closer to downtown Duluth, where I had cheered two years ago. This was the part I knew I needed to get to. I knew the energy there would bring me in. By now, I was starting to actually slow down. My legs were tired and my nausea was…not great. There were a couple points where I thought I was going to have to stop and puke. I tried not to think about it too much.
As we made our way down Superior in downtown, I stuck as far left as I could to stay in what remaining shade I could find. The crowd was very loud and the buildings helped to really echo the sound. It was extremely encouraging. When I finally saw the 25th marker coming up, I knew I was getting close. I knew didn’t have to dig in for much longer.
I also knew at that marker, there was a left turn and the last tiny hill up an overpass. Once we were over that, it was flat to the finish. I had nothing left to push with because of my nausea, but I also knew my time was good and I was probably going to pull off a negative split and a sub-3:40 finish. I was pretty stoked about that, but more stoked by the idea of being done.
We hooked around the convention center and along the harbor and finally made our last turn. As I saw the finish line come into view, I was so happy to be there, but it felt so far away.
After what felt like years, I finally crossed the finish looking better than I felt, at least according to my finish video.
A 3:38:55 was good enough for a negative split and my second fastest marathon time since transitioning.
My legs felt completely trashed and all I wanted was to drink everything in sight. I think I looked like I had fallen in a pool, I was so sweaty. I walked around to try to keep my legs moving and grabbed my free beer. I ended up gulping it down pretty quickly so I could start walking back to the hotel. I made sure to walk along the course as much as possible so I could cheer while walking. As I walked more, my legs started to loosen back up a bit at least.
I’m really glad to have actually run the race after my DNS two years ago. I ran a pretty solid race even though I was struggling the last few miles. I think this makes five straight marathons I’ve negative split which is pretty rad. Though, that said, my splits this race were super duper erratic. I don’t think I’ve ever had such erratic splits during a race before…or even in a training run. I tend to be steady with an overall negative trend. In this race, I was all over the place, up and down. It’s not a thing I was worrying much about during the race or am worried about now. I know my effort was pretty even through the first 18-19 miles and the variations were due to the hills each mile. It’s just strange.
I really like Duluth as a city. It’s charming and quaint and everyone is very friendly. It feels like it could be the 8th town in Nightmare Before Christmas, Marathon Town. It feels like this is something they’re preparing for all year and the people really love the event. The race is well organized while maintaining a very personal and small-town feel. It’s a good vibe. The crowd support for the first 3⁄4 of the race is light, but there was plenty later on when it mattered.
I’m happy to have marathon number 11 in the books and I’m grateful to have had a decent race considering the last three months. And that brings me to my hip… Notice how I didn’t mention it during the race? Yeah, it wasn’t a thing, really. I’d say there were maybe five to ten total minutes added up through the race when I even felt it at all. I was staying very focused on my breathing and that was doing the trick. Those little bits when I did feel something, and we’re talking like a 1 out of 10, were when I had stopped breathing properly.