Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Twenty-Six Thoughts About Grandma's Marathon

I came, I saw, I ran Grandma's Marathon 2009 from Two Harbors to Duluth, Minn. While I had plenty of tunes to keep my ears occupied during the 26.2 miles, my thoughts were wandering and attempting to pick up the scenery. Here's a run down of 26.2 highlights that stuck with me after I crossed the finish line of the 33rd annual classic.

1. I never heard the start gun go off. I hadn't even started listening to my music before runners around me where cheering and we were surging forward to the start line.
2. These runners were anxious to start. I've never jogged to the starting line before and usually don't start running until seconds before crossing the timing mat.
3. On a hot day, runners like the shade. Any spot a tree cast a shadow on the ground, runners moved over for the chance to be out of the sun.
4. The breeze off Lake Superior is chilling, but so refreshing when heat and humidity is stifling. I was so thankful to feel a few of those while running although I definitely wished for more.
5. Knife River around mile 5 was a popular spectator spot and really scenic too. I wished I had my camera to take a picture.
6. Hooray for short port-a-potty lines. I didn't even wait 5 minutes before I made my pre-race pit-stop and still had plenty of time before the race started.
7. If you're not careful the pace groups--or maybe just those gunning for 3:40--will swarm you on the course and at the hydration stations.
8. Volunteers and spectators are awesome. Not only for coming out to support the runners but for handing out fluids and ice, cleaning up our messes, and turning on hoses to cool us down.
9. I was only too happy to see family at mile 16. I was surprised that my in-laws, including grandma-in-law, risked traffic to drive up that far to see me and that I spotted them on the course. I didn't expect to see them until after mile 20.
10. Oh how I needed more fluid stations than what was provided. On a hot day, I could drink something at every mile if it was available. I made the mistake of sucking on a Jolly Rancher at mile 18 thinking a water stop was right around the corner. I didn't realize it wasn't until mile 19 that water stops started every mile--before that they were stationed roughly two miles apart.
11. I'm loving these smaller races, where the number of runners doesn't top 10,000. More manageable start, less fighting to pick a place to stand, ride a shuttle to the start, drop off your gear and find it at the finish, not feeling cramped running the entire 26.2 miles.
12. The scenery. I'd run Grandma's again just to run next to Lake Superior and see the still blue waters and lush green countryside.
13. Need a rival for Heartbreak Hill in Boston? You can't miss Lemon Drop Hill at mile 22, which will leave your legs screaming at you and wishing that the finish line was four feet away and not four miles down the stretch. The only redeeming news is that a photographer was positioned on the hill, which motivated me to continue running rather than give up and find a shot of me walking at marathonfoto.com after the race.
14. Gotta love a race that has a guy dressed up as a grandma--grey wig, flowered dress and pearls--running by.
15. And one that has runners trucking along regardless of the temperatures!
16. It's not a good sign though when you have to run to the side so two ambulances can make their way up the road for hurt runners. I spotted one runner on the side of the road being helped by the medical team and an ambulance driving up the road and later saw another ambulance but no runner. The Star-Tribune in the Twin Cities reported that 36 runners needed to be taken to the hospital.
17. Or when you see a photo of the winner at the finish line collapsed in a wheelchair. Mary Akor topped the women for a third straight victory but the heat and humidity left her depleted after crossing the finish line.
18. I have millions of race shirts but I feel like I really earned this one--I had to wait to cross the finish line to receive my Grandma's swag and had to survive that heat. As tempting as the medical drop-outs were, I was really hoping not to use them.
19. Ode to Kara for the Kara-obsessed runners we are at Fit-Ink! Turns out Kara Goucher's younger sister Kendall ran the Garry Bjorklund half marathon that kicks off at 6:30 a.m. on the second half of the marathon course. She's fast, too!
20. The male winner, Christopher Raabe, made running in the heat look easy. His action shots show a calm, cool and collect runner who's cruising to a fast finish. The crazy part is that Raabe not only beat his competitors by nearly 3 minutes, but this was only his sixth marathon and he ran his personal best.
21. Ice cream and strawberries at the finish line? This is my kind of race. I was totally craving ice cream in the later miles, telling myself I'd beg for Culver's when the event was over.
22. Loved not having a clock at every mile to remind me just how slow I had gotten over the course of the race. I even stopped staring at my Garmin every few seconds to watch my pace taper off.
23. Did I really see a black warning flag at the water station at mile 21? Or was it 20? Either I was delirious or I saw the tell-tale sign of taking it easy because it was too warm for comfortable running.
24. Others say that Grandma's is a hilly course and not flat like say Chicago or even Marine Corps. Not true. The little rollers were a pleasant change in scenery and nothing too strenuous. At least until Lemon Drop and then you couldn't help but give your legs a break. Even on the downhill which was tough on the calves.
25. While I didn't partake because it was easier--and less congested--to be dropped off at a hotel for a bus shuttle to the start, some runners got to take the North Shore Railroad to Two Harbors. Talk about a unique ride to the start line. The train even gave us a send off, blowing its whistle as it sped south to Duluth.
26. Bagpipes, cheerleaders, bands. The route wasn't short of entertainment either. That bagpiper though, he looked like he was boiling in his tartan kilt.

And for 0.2 to cover the entire race distance in thoughts. The sweet reward after finishing: a trip to Betty's Pies in Two Harbors. Sorry folks but for me a race wouldn't be complete without a restaurant stop on the way home (Weber Grill calls my name each year in Chicago). I offered to show my support group the race start and after we wandered out of the finish area and back to the car drove north to Betty's Pies, famous in Minnesota for its multitude of homemade pies. But it was the huge basket of fries and a hot fudge banana sundae that caught my eye and made their way into my stomach. Yum and thank goodness I had a good calorie burn beforehand! Posted by Kate



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