Sunday, June 24, 2018

Grandma’s Marathon: There's more than one way to success & thankfulness

Every marathon is a different adventure, and the person who starts the race is never the same person who finishes it.  Anyone looking to maximize personal growth within a few hours should race a marathon!  Grandma’s Marathon was a 2 hour 49 minute 8 second finale to a training block that made me a more thankful person.
Almost there!
Race morning brought nearly perfect running weather, with temperatures in the 50s and overcast skies.  The much lower than expected temperatures made it impossible to complain about 100% humidity.  I wrote the verse “With God all things are possible - Matthew 19:26” on my arm; only because of Him did I even make it to this marathon after a rocky start to the training block.  On the bus ride to the starting line I was thankful that it wasn’t hot or a deluge, both of which had been forecasted at some points. I was thankful for the amazing perks I received as an elite athlete in this event, which included a nice bus from our hotel to the start, an elite tent/staging area (Kellyn Taylor was in there too!), separate porta-potties and bag checks, and the ability to have my own bottles placed on the course (more elite details coming in later posts).  I was also thankful to share the bus ride with my friend Michelle, just like we had before the Bill Snyder Half four weeks prior.
My race verse
I stuck to my typical pre-race warm up and routines, found Nichole who I planned to pace with at the beginning, and felt ready to go on the starting line.  Although anytime I line up for a marathon, the 2:45 standard is on my mind, I knew it would be a huge stretch off of the training cycle I’d had, and we planned to start at 6:30 pace. I am pretty good at gauging what I have to give, so I knew that once I got rolling I’d know if I should stay at that pace or drop.

I started with Nichole and her friend Craig (you can read Nichole's race report here). The pace felt perfect as a marathon effort and the crowds thinned out. I looked at my first 4 mile splits and then switched to effort-based racing. I suspected my pace would drop a little as I got more warmed up and into a groove, but I didn’t want to force it down in an effort to hit certain splits and have that come back to haunt me later in the race like happened at Houston. One thing I’ve learned about marathoning is that just because you’re in shape to run a certain pace doesn’t mean you’ll be able to run that pace on race day, and forcing it early sure doesn’t do you any favors!  Plus I wasn't actually at a fitness level to run 6:17 pace; I just had a small outside hope that race day magic would happen, but knew 6:20-6:30 was more realistic.

I wrote additional posts with the details of each section of the races (links below), but overall the miles flowed and I felt like I was running at the correct effort-level for me that day. I was thankful to be out there feeling good, although like any long race some parts were easier and some were rougher.  I saw course clocks at the 10K, 10 mile, half, and mile 20, so I knew about where I was at based on those. After pulling away from Nichole and Craig during mile 5, I never ran with anyone for more than a mile or so, but I kept focusing on the runners ahead of me and working towards them.  I'm pretty good at getting stuck in no man's land no matter how large the race, and the faster you're running the more likely that is to occur!

At mile 20, I felt like I had more left than I’d had at that point at CIM, which I was thankful for -- I was also about 2:40 slower so that probably had a lot to do with it!  Although I loved the Grandma’s course (especially the straightness of it!) and would describe it as flat, the first half is a net downhill and from the half to about 23 is a net uphill. It’s not enough that you notice it racing, but it influences pace, especially when you're getting nit picky about seconds. I wasn’t sure how my body would respond in the final 10K, but I tried to focus and to catch and pass as many people as I could.

Elevation profile
The closer I got to the finish line, the thicker the spectators became, and the more confident I became about having a strong finish. I drank my entire 8 oz bottle of nuun energy at mile 22, mainly for the caffeine, and shortly after I developed a terrible side cramp. It persisted from about 22.5-24.5, and I was able to keep running but wow it hurt. I’d kind of accepted that I’d have it through the end, so was extremely thankful when it abated and I was really able to cruise in.  It also rained for awhile starting around 23 and Lemon Drop "hill".  I developed some neck pain in the final few miles, which I've experienced at the end of my last 3 marathons now, and although it made me lean back a bit and tilt my head upward, it was nothing major (at CIM it was debilitating, but at Houston was also fairly minor).

Around mile 25 I heard a spectator say “You’ve gotta move if you want under 2:50” to someone, and I thought “I sure want under 2:50!” and moved with all I could, which meant a 6:12 final mile and 5:55 pace final 0.2. After 25 miles with only 4 turns (all added to the course they've run in the past, due to construction, and all after mile 20), the final mile of the course had 5 turns, but I thought it was almost helpful at that point because it made it easier to lie to myself about how close I was to the finish line! There were also 2 clocks in the last mile, although they weren’t marked with distances so weren’t actually helpful; it never occurred to me that I could look at my watch to check the distance, but I don't think knowing would have changed anything at that point.
I remember running over this, I think
in mile 24 or 25
As I came down the final straight, I was again filled with thankfulness for making it to the finish line, for making it through my training cycle, for being 100% healthy, for my third marathon in the 2:40s, and for my second fastest marathon ever.  My smile in this photograph that was taken just after I finished (and was immediately handed my gear bag - another wonderful elite perk) says it all!
Few things match the thrill of the
Results & official course splits
My official results, along with a lot of fun stats and two finishing videos, are here.  I was 43rd female (I was ranked 42 so finished very close) and 9th in the 35-39 age group.  2:35 won my age group!

My family found me from the sidelines (Jon and Albani got to sit in a special section of bleachers with my elite pass!), and I think I surprised them with how elated I was. Sure, I was 4:08 off of my Big Dream time, but I met all of my realistic goals for the race. Those were to pace within myself and evenly (not by my watch), to negative split, to finish strong, to finish in the 2:40s, and to be thankful no matter what. I truly believe I got the best marathon I could have gotten out of myself on that course in that field on 6/16/18, and that’s a fantastic feeling! Before the race I’d been stuck on 2:48 as a realistic ideal day finishing time, so I was very close in my prediction. One big lesson I learned this training cycle is not to have 2:45 as my singular goal, because while I certainly want to hit that time standard, it can’t be the only way to success if I want to maintain the love I have for the marathon and the joy I find in racing it. I’m thankful for my passion for this hobby, and wouldn’t trade that for any marathon finishing time.
Post-race celebration with most of my
cheer crew (Jon took the photo)
On the other hand, I like to believe I’m improving, even though my time progression isn’t linear. I give a lot of myself to this pursuit. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I truly love marathon training, but I dedicate a lot to it in a life where I don’t have a surplus of time, plus traveling to ideal races is an investment each time. I am thankful that told me that based on course differences, I am improving!
I've said it 1 million times:  Too
bad you can't OTQ at Phoenix
With God all things ARE possible, and I am most thankful for that.
Run Superior!
Garmin splits 1
Garmin splits 2
More about my Grandma's experience can be found:
Elite excitement and expo
Race morning anticipation
Opening 10K
6.2 to halfway there
Half to 20
Closing 10K
Post-race feels
The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race
Caffeine taper, pre-race meals, & race day nutrition
Minnesota Vacation (how to family vacation along with Grandma's)


  1. Sure looked like a solid race. The elevation looks hillier than I thought it was. Congrats.

    1. Thank you! The elevation profile looks hillier than it felt, if that makes sense. The main places I noticed the variations were in mile 10 (downhill) and mile 11 (uphill), but otherwise it seemed flat. I think it's a fast course, but the way the elevation is distributed isn't perfectly ideal when every second counts. I highly recommend it though!

  2. I was just thinking you need to run Phoenix again when I remembered you said it wasn’t one where you could qualify. Really that’s a lot of elevation gain for a marathon when you’re trying to PR! Not that you aren’t used to hills! What an incredible race and time! I told my brother about your race and he said he’d like to run your marathon pace for a 5k and I had to agree! You are amazing!

    1. Oh, how I wish I could qualify at Phoenix! After both CIM and Grandma's I told Jon, "If I'd have run Phoenix today, I'd have gotten it." The limit on net downhill for a qualifier is around 420 ft drop (basically they set it just over the amount Boston has), and Phoenix drops almost 1000 ft. Looking back, I definitely feel like I should put an * by my Phoenix time and it was probably 5 minutes faster than I'd have run on any other course that day, but at the time it gave me a lot of confidence so I'm glad I didn't know then what I know now, haha!

      I think the Grandma's course was faster than most and my best choice for a spring marathon, though. I loved the lack of turns!

      And you are too kind. I'm not sure I can run much faster than this pace for a 5K either, haha! This season was so weird because I finished all of my half marathons with 5:52-6:02 final miles, but my speed work wasn't much under 6:00 pace even for 400-800 m repeats (another data point for my speed work is useless for anything longer than a 5K study!).

  3. I definitely consider the Phoenix course in regards to my PR/BQ, but it comforts me that it isn't REVEL downhill-esque and then I don't worry anymore about putting an asterisk on it, LOL. I'm not at OTQ level though, so I understand where you're coming from.

    I love your positivity and how you decide to focus on what good comes out of each cycle/race. I think a big part of all of this is thinking about the good, so many runners look at what goes/went wrong and less about what went right.


    1. It's absolutely up to each person what races we do and don't *. :-) The BAA accepts all of the certified downhill courses as BQs, so they are. USATF doesn't accept them as OTQs, so they're not an option.

      It's definitely human nature to focus on the negative, but one thing about my job and education in ABA is that it makes me more apt to look at the positives and progress, no matter how small. There's a very good chance I'll never OTQ, but I know I'd never be running 2:47-2:49 if I weren't trying for it!

      And in regards to the Revel races, my quads ache just looking at those elevation charts, haha! I just imagine falling down a mountain for 26.2 miles. However, I also understand the appeal for people chasing a dream time that they feel they need all the help they can get to achieve. One of my friends BQed for the first time a few weeks ago at Revel Rockies after trying for years; he said he thought the course aided him by about 15 minutes which is really crazy when you think about it!

  4. You are so inspiring! Congrats on a great race at Grandma's!