Saturday, June 28, 2014

Race Recap: 2014 Grandma's Marathon

I'd be remiss if I didn't begin with a thank you: thanks for reading, and for the kind, supportive texts/tweets/posts/photos/tags/etc!

I ran my final long run 7 days prior to the race, an easy-ish 2 hours (17 miles). The week of, I forced myself to run a couple 8 milers despite being pretty tired of running/training (I ran 3-5 easy on the other days). I also forced myself to stop biking to work on Thursday. Thankfully I only had to take CTA to/from Niles Thursday as I was able to work a half day from home on Friday before leaving for the airport.

After rushing to O'Hare (I'm usually late-ish), my flight was canceled shortly after arriving (late) to my gate. This was about 16 hours prior to the 7:45am start of the 2014 Grandma's Marathon.

Standing in the customer service line at O'Hare, I decided that my best course of action was not to find another flight but to drive. Even if I was re-booked on a later flight, how could I trust that it wouldn't also be cancelled? On my shakeout earlier in the day, I came to the realization that the time had come to be stubborn. Training without injury is a dance of compromise, changing or shifting plans in favor of consistency. Racing when the fitness is finally present is about courageously/stubbornly pursuing your goals: maintaining the pressure and not backing down or changing course when things get uncomfortable. It was a shift I was not so sure I had prepared to handle. That said, the first challenge came much earlier than expected when my travel plans fell through.

I felt good about driving, but I could not have done it without help! My parents kindly shifted their weekend plans in order to allow me to use their second car to make the drive to Duluth. Meg and Bess who were already in Duluth were able to pick up my race packet and room keys as I'd be arriving much too late to do either.

Arriving around 1am, I ate some food (two bags of microwavable rice if you must know, should have just done one bag), prepped my race gear, and rolled out my legs in an effort to mitigate the effects of 8 hours of sitting in the car. Getting to sleep at 2am, I was happy to finally be in Duluth. Having done the first portion of the drive up to Duluth many, many times driving to/from Carleton College where my sister, Rachel, and brother, Jonathan, went to school, the drive it self didn't really bother me too much. I knew I was capable of making the drive solo. The lack of sleep didn't really bother me either as my sleep as been somewhat inconsistent of late and prior to my fastest marathons I hardly even slept the night prior due to nerves. They say it is two nights prior that really counts.

5:00am came quickly, but I still felt good (not groggy or tired) when I woke up. I went for an easy 10 minute shakeout on the St. Scholastica campus where we were staying (I'd stay there again, it was great!). The legs felt pretty good, not great but good enough. We took the 5:45am bus to the start which picked us up from just outside the dorm where we were staying. Once in Duluth (haha), pre-race logistics were pretty painless.

We were fortunate to have a cool, but not cold day which made the pre-race waiting much more tolerable. That said, I can't believe I forgot any type of throwaway garments and warm-up tights for the start line. It ended up being totally fine, but in the moment I could have used a little something.

On the start line, they dropped the men's and women's elites in front of us normal folks so there was about 60-70 (?) runners already a head of me. Which was more or less totally fine. I hoped would help me stay controlled over the first mile or so.

When the race finally started, I started slowly, keeping in mind the task at hand, but not as slowly as in Boston where I split a 6:35 first mile. I split 6:10 with an approximate 6 second delta between gun and chip times. So I was just about perfect, pace-wise. The first portion of the race, I was just trying to run as comfortably as possible, as close as possible to 5:55 pace. 6:10s, 6:05s, 6:00s, were permissible as long as I was comfortable until at least mile 20-ish. I was trying to replicate my memory of cresting Heartbreak Hill feeling good aerobically (unfortunately that day, my muscles were totally trashed and were the limiting factor).

Without the elevation profile of Boston, I wasn't sure how to segment the Grandma's, however after being pleasantly surprised after feeling out the first few miles, I decided that the segmentation that Dan Daly had suggested for Boston was probably still applicable to Grandma's Marathon (and perhaps most marathons now that I think about it). Specifically this entailed:

  1. Starting conservatively
  2. Running goal pace, strong and steady through mile 17 (in Boston this is where the Newton Hills begin)
  3. Surviving miles 17-22 (the Newton Hills, typically my mentally toughest miles regardless of the course)
  4. Unleashing the kraken on miles 23-Finish
Miles 2 and 3 were 5:50 and 5:52. It was here that I began to trust a bit more in my intuition that my run at 13.1 Chicago was probably pretty close to marathon pace (I ran 1:16:47 (5:52 pace), but only had one gear the whole race). I was still cautious and backed off a bit, hoping to run 5:55s through mile 13-17.

I ended up splitting 6:01 for the 4th mile, but then put together a nice string of mid 5:50s: 5:54 and 5:54 for miles 5 and 6 then 11:53 (5:57 average) for miles 7 and 8. It was here that I got to chatting with Adidas Running Rep, Ben Kampf. Having a full blown conversation during a race is a weird experience, but I enjoyed it immensely. It took my mind off the miles for a moment, and kept me relaxed and hopeful I hadn't gone out too aggressively.

We slowed a bit in mile 9, splitting 6:00 and I broke away from the group I had been running with at an aid station and forged on. I was still pretty focused on running 5:55s, telling myself that I needed to stay as comfortable as possible through at least 15 miles. Mile 10 came pretty quickly and was the first time I really started to feel a bit of fatigue. Splitting 5:44, I pushed any irritation at my inconsistency out of my mind and backed off a bit.

Miles 11, 12, and 13 were a bit slower than I would have liked, but I found myself still clicking off sub 6 minute miles despite a very aggressive 10th mile so I couldn't be too upset. Splitting 5:58, 54, and 59, I found myself crossing the half-way point feeling pretty comfortable in 1:17:45. I was on pace to even split a 2:35:30 which was just a bit off one of my goals of running the sub-2:35 Fleet Feet / Nike Racing sponsored athlete qualifier. I figured with how I felt, I could find 30 seconds over the next half so I was encouraged a bit though still plagued with doubts as I've gotten to half-way in every marathon I've run still on or around my goal pace. The carnage usually ensues within just a few miles.

I told myself at half-way to hang tight and run comfortably for another couple miles to mile 15. Then revised my thoughts and told myself to chill until mile 17. Then mile 20. I've had too many races become death marches in these middle miles.

That plan went out the window when I was passed just after half-way by a guy running just a bit faster than my planned mid-5:50s. We ended up running 5:45 for the 14th mile. At that point, I decided to back off a bit, but to try to start running 5:50 pace. I was still feeling good and I figured that had I shot myself in the foot by running the earlier miles too fast, there was nothing I could do about it at this point in the race.

The next few miles went by pretty quickly as could see a pretty big group a couple hundred meters a head that I told myself I wanted to catch by mile 20. I hit 5:50, 5:47, 5:51, and 5:49 for miles 15, 16, 17, and 18. Then split 11:31 (just off 5:45 pace) for miles 19 and 20. I managed to catch up with the group I was trying to run down that included the top American woman as well as a couple guys from Lincoln Running Company Racing.

I had managed to survive to mile 20 without hurting too bad (it wasn't easy, but I wasn't totally suffering).I kept on telling myself that after I took my last gel at mile 21 I just had to run a sub-30 minute 5 mile tempo. Then I decided to break things up a bit more, using other runners on the course to motivate myself. I selected my next target and told myself to push slightly to catch him by mile 23.

The final miles contorted themselves in time seeming both short and long. I ran no slower than 5:50 over the last 10k, splitting a 5:38 for mile 25, my fastest of the day. I was able to pick off a few more runners over these final miles and received some well appreciated cheers from bike-mounted Chuck of Brooks Running and Dan and Allie Walters (if you're on Facebook and like running you should follow Dan Walters Running)!

Crossing the finish line less than two minutes off of my PR felt great, I laughed with relief and joy. I hadn't come closer than within nine minutes of my PR over the past three years and it was beginning to be difficult to believe I'd ever be able to achieve my goals. The marathon can be a cruel event and apparently I have been slow to learn my lessons.

I hope to follow up this race recap with a bit more of a dive into the last few weeks of the training cycle and the race itself to pull out some of the principles I think others can apply to their training and racing. Check out my race review on BibRave. The short review is that Grandma's Marathon is a must-run American marathon. In my opinion it is up there with Boston, particularly if you want to run fast as the field up front is very deep. They did a great job producing the event.

At Grandma's Marathon, my expectations aligned with my fitness/reality. Can you share a time when this happened for you? What were the key factors driving this alignment?


  1. Hi Dan! I just started blogging and my husband, Matt (Peharda), suggested that I read your blog. I love it! "Release the Kraken" had me laughing out loud! Congrats on a phenomenal race! :-)

    1. Hi! I'm glad you enjoyed the recap! Thanks so much for the kind words! I took a look at your blog, kudos on the nice race report on the Slacker 4 Mile& bigger props for "not counting" your mid-race 5k PR. I'm sure you'll achieve your goals in the 5k soon!