Marathon 2.0

I ran Grandma’s Marathon on June 17. It was my second and final one (though my first was supposed to be my final one, too). As I said to my brother on Facebook, I’ve now joined the storied ranks of the re-retirees: Jordan, Favre, Armstrong, Larson.

I ran my first marathon with my wife in 2009. I was happy to run with Diane, but it did slow me down a bit (she had some knee issues), so I always had in the back of my head that I’d like to see how well I could do running at my own pace.

I vowed to quit running after the marathon, and to walk two miles a day, which I did throughout the winter and into spring. Then I lost 30 pounds and couldn’t keep myself from running come spring. I did my personal best in the Des Moines half marathon in the fall and was hooked on running again.

Come winter, I was thinking seriously about Grandma’s, and eventually I took the plunge and signed up. I started my training plan in good shape and didn’t miss a run, but 10 days before the race I pulled my calf muscle and thought the dream might be dead. I skipped the rest of my runs and hoped for the best.

Diane, Leif and I got to the Motel 6 at about 8:30 on Friday, then to the Duluth convention center for the expo just as everyone was closing up shop. Got my stuff and went to sleep at 10:30.

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to get to downtown Duluth, where runners catch a bus or train to the starting line near Two Harbors. I jogged to the train, and my calf felt tight. I was worried, but figured I’d give it a shot.

The train ride was the highlight of the weekend for me. I recommend the North Shore Scenic Railroad. Nice little trip in old railroad cars, bridges over rivers, some views of the big lake. I talked to a young guy from Nebraska who was running his second Grandma’s and 19th marathon. He’s hoping to go to Boston. His favorites so far: Chicago and Disney World. (Not that I’m considering it, mind you. Maybe the half in Chicago.)

We got to the starting line at about 7, just enough time to wait in line for the potty and drop off my sweat bag. I lined up between the 4:15 pacer and the 4:30. I was hoping for a 4:22, which would be a 10-minute per mile pace.

I crossed the starting line about 4 minutes after the start of the race. My plan was to think of the first ten miles as loosening up, then the next 10 I would be “in the zone.” The last 6: All bets are off. During the first ten miles, I wouldn’t let myself say I was tired. I kept telling myself I was still getting loose. It sorta worked.

After I passed 10 I told myself I was “in the zone,” and that the final 6 would be “the home stretch.” That worked until about 15, when I had to admit to myself that being in the zone meant being pretty exhausted. At 17 they handed out gels, but I didn’t feel much like eating it, and the sports drinks should’ve been giving me the calories I needed.

I drank at every water station (every two miles) and walked while I drank. Since I was dehydrated after my first marathon, I did a lot of reading about how much to drink and/or eat. The best information I could find said at my pace during a marathon, 8 ounces of sports drink per 20 minutes was a good amount for calories, electrolytes and hydration, so that’s what I went with.

At 19, as we were coming into Duluth, Leif and Diane were on the curb cheering me on, which was a nice pick-me-up. By 20, I could not realistically think of myself as being on the home stretch. Instead, I told myself I would just run to the next water stop, then walk the rest of the way. I made it, walked through the water stop, drank my 4 ounces, and started running again. “I’ll just run the next mile, then walk the rest of the way,” I said.

At about 22 I passed my old friends Darryl and Jill, who were playing in a band. I didn’t notice Jill, but I gave Darryl a sweaty hug. I’m sure he appreciated that. He was wearing a Bruins jersey and a big black afro wig. I could tell it was Darryl a block away, even though I hadn’t seen him for a decade or so. “You haven’t changed a bit,” I said.

I was ready to run up the Lemon Drop hill, but I felt my calves tightening up, so I walked the second half. By this point, I was changing my gait every few minutes. I’m sure I looked like a lame chimp, hobbling along. I felt like I was going at a walking pace, but I kept passing walkers, so I must’ve been going faster than that.

I walked through the water stops, which were every mile from 20 on, but ran the rest, past all the frat boys handing out beers, over the cobblestones downtown, and around the corner where I could see the lift bridge.

At 25, the clock said 4:16. That meant my time was 4:12, so I had a shot at 4:22 if I could run a 10-minute mile. Or so I thought.

Actually I had 1.2 miles to go, not a mile. And the last mile was torture. You can see the finish line, but the route winds around, farther and farther from where you want to be. Finally you see the real home stretch, about four blocks long.

I saw another clock a few blocks before the end and realized I’d missed my 4:22. I didn’t care. I passed the finish line after pulling my sweats down so the photographers could see my number, which was pinned to my shorts.

I got my medal and my shirt and watched for Diane and Leif. (They had been cheering for me at the end, but I didn’t see them.) Somehow I got off the trail to the food and onto the trail to get my sweatbag. Never did see the food, but I was more interested in water and warmth.

We had no plan for where to meet up, so Diane and Leif went to the designated meet-up area, which I knew nothing about. I started feeling woozy, which was reminding me of how I felt after my first marathon, so I staggered to the medical tent and begged for a chair. I figured I’d be as close as I could just in case.

I borrowed a phone and called Diane. She didn’t answer so I left a message and hoped they’d get it.

It took a while, but they finally came. Diane was immediately worried because my lips were blue. They helped me across the street to the Vietnamese restaurant in the mall, where I had some tea and wonton soup and lots of water and started to feel okay. My fingers got numb, which has happened a few times after long runs.

Diane went to get the car, while Leif and I waited in the restaurant. When we got to the sidewalk to meet her, I got a horrible chill. My arms started trembling and knees wobbling. Leif said it looked like I was having a seizure. I ducked into a gift shop to warm up and felt fine. The trip home was uneventful.

I was amazed at how many people seemed to be just fine, happy even, in the aftermath of the run. I was a basket case, and they were smiling and drinking beer. Good reason for me to give it up, I figure. Half marathons will be plenty from now on.

My official time was 4:24.27, or 10:06 per mile. I was pretty happy to break 4:30, and I improved my place from the start to the finish (i.e. passed more people than passed me).

I finished in 3,861st place out of 6,333 finishers. I started out in 6,136th place, made it to 4,091 by 10k (59:32), 4,084 by 13.1 (2:07:03), 3,891 at 20 (3:27:03), and 3,863 at 25 (4:12:06).

I feel good about finishing, and I’m really, really glad it’s over.

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