Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Smackdown at Grandma's

Or, Anatomy of a Crash and Burn

On Saturday I ran the 33rd annual Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN. This was pretty close to being a last second decision. About a month ago I looked at my schedule for June and noticed that I had this weekend off. I knew my brother was training to run a PR sub 3 hour marathon and I thought it would be fun to be there for that. So, I checked the website and even though it normally sells out in a couple of weeks, there were still slots available. Disregarding the fact I had just run my first two ultras in the last 3 weeks, I signed up for the marathon with 5 weeks to go.

Training: No question about it, my training was not the best. It was a combination recovery from the ultras, maintenance, and then taper. I had planned to do one 20 mile run two weeks prior to the marathon, but I had to cut that down to 17 miles.

I arrived in Minnesota on Wednesday and spent some time visiting family. My parents are both in their 80s and are still very active. There is a 5k walking/running/biking paved trail around the lake north of town and they frequently walk there. I hope I am as active as they are in 30 years. I did two short runs on Wednesday and Thursday around the lake.

Friday was the road trip to Duluth. (or Dulute if you are a local) It was my brother, my sister-in-law, Deb (who was running her very first marathon) and myself. The 4.5 hour drive seemed to fly by as we talked about training for and running a marathon and various other topics. We arrived in Duluth between 2 and 3 pm and checked into the UMD dorms where we were staying. The hotels are outrageously expensive that weekend, and even the dorm rooms (with a bathroom down the hall) were $180 for a two night stay. We then headed over to the Expo. It was a typical big marathon expo with packet pick-up and numerous vendor booths. One thing most big marathons don't have though, is Dick Beardsley. He is the course record holder and he is also the guy who lost the Boston Marathon to Alberto Salazar in 1982 in the famous "Duel in the Sun". Dick kept us all mesmerized with his stories for a solid hour. After the motivation, we ate the pasta dinner at the expo and then headed back to the dorms. After listening to Dick talk about how he always got a room with two beds, so that even if he tossed and turned all night, at least his racing outfit got a good night's sleep, I decided to try the same thing.

Race Day: After the expected tossing and turning we fueled up, dressed up, and got on the buses to head to Two Harbors for the start. The course is run along the north shore of Lake Superior and is very scenic. The day before, the temperatures were in the 50's and we hoped conditions would be ideal for a fast race. This was not the case. The temperature at the start was already close to 70 and forecast to reach the mid to high 80's. One interesting sidenote, I was waiting in the PortaPotty line and saw someone I recognized. It was Margaret who won the Darkside 8 Hour Run in Georgia 5 weeks ago. We chatted for just a bit, amazed at how small a world the running community sometimes is. I had hoped to line up with and run with the 5:00 pace group, but the starting area was already getting packed, so I ended up between the 5:00 and 5:30 pace groups.

The Start: After the National Anthem, we were treated to a two-ship flyby of F-16s. Shortly after that, we were off. Ok, the front-runners were off. Us back of the packers started our shuffle/stop move towards the start line. After about seven minutes, we crossed the start line. At this time, the 5:00 pace balloons were about 100-200 yards ahead of me. I settled into what at the time felt like a comfortable 11:15 - 11:30 minute/mile pace. I kept the 5:00 pace group in my sights and it looked like I was gaining about 5 yards per mile. In my optimistic mind, my plan was to slowly gain on them and catch up by the 15 mile point, then stay with them until after Lemon Drop Hill, then put the hammer down and race to a PR. The plan was on track all the way until the 6 mile point.

The Fade: Between miles 6 and 7, I noticed that the balloons were getting smaller, and by mile 8, I lost sight of them. I was still feeling OK, but my heart rate which had stayed below 160 was now around 165 and my pace was in the 11:40 - 11:50 range. Not my goal pace, but with a little bit of a slowdown, I was still confident of finishing near 5 hours, maybe not a PR, but not too much slower.

The Crash: My heart rate continued its climb even with the slowdown, and by mile 15 it was above 170. I was also feeling very slightly light-headed, so I slowed way down, walking a majority of the time now. I was wearing my I-phone and it was about this time I got a text message. My brother John had just set a 7 minute PR and met his goal of a sub 3 hour marathon. Just incredible in these conditions. This gave my spirit and mind a boost, but my body had surrendered. I still had over 11 miles to go, but I had plenty of company at the back of the pack. The fans were amazing, even out away from Duluth. Some people living on the course even set up hoses on ladders for runners to run under. While I was walking, I sent a text to my brother congratulating him and telling him not to expect me until 5:15. (This was way optimistic!)

The Second Wind: I continued to mostly walk and run a little bit until about mile 21. At this time Marie, who was leading the 5:30 pace group, caught up to me. The six mile pullback had gotten my average heart rate back below 160, so I pulled in alongside with hopes of staying with the group until the end. Marie was an excellent pace leader, and they were doing a 5 minute run/1 minute walk pace. I managed to stay with the group all the way up Lemon Drop Hill and about a half mile past, but once again I was just a little ambitious, and at the end of one of the walk breaks I had to keep walking.

The Finish: By this time we were well into the city of Duluth and the crowds were incredible. Even though I was walking almost the whole time, people were cheering like I was leading the pack. With about a mile to go, my brother showed up and walked me in. We did speed up to a jog for the cameras, and I zoomed all the way up to a 12:00 mile for the final .2 miles. I finally finished in a PW (personal worst) of 5:38:49. My legs had held up fine, I had no blisters, I just didn't have it in me.

What Went Wrong: The primary reason I crashed and burned was that I was undertrained for a PR. Also, I was not fully recovered from my ultras. Another reason was that I went out too fast for the conditions. I'm convinced that if I had started out conservatively with the 5:30 pace group, I would have done much better.

What's Next: On the road trip home, I announced that I will run a 4:45 marathon at the PF Chang Rock N Roll marathon in January. To do this, I'll concentrate on training for that one race and try to do what my brother did and drop 10 pounds.

How the Rest of the Road Trip Crew Did: I've already told you about my brother's sub 3 hour effort. My sis-in-law wasn't happy with her result but she ran an amazing 4:21 in difficult conditions. Our neophyte, Deb, ran an incredible 4:28. Congrats to all.

For a report from the other side of a smackdown, check out my brother's blog here and offer him some well deserved congratulations.


Kelly said...

Sorry it was a personal worst... but you finished, and that's a great accomplishment. Consider it a training run... best of luck for the rest of the summer!

Jess said...

Sorry it turned out to be a PW! But a finish is a finish, so congrats!

Jessica said...

Good job on a tough race in tough conditions. You had a lot of wear and tear after those ultra's! Way to power through!

Ms. V. said...

Sorry it was so bad for you, but really...the heat is always unexpected!You finished!

johnmaas said...

Yes, Grandma can dish out some nasty weather.
Nice write-up on a fun marathon weekend. For every marathon you run, you will learn something new about yourself.

David Ray said...

Good run, but were you doing the hydration and salt thing with the heat? I'm just wondering if that could be a cause. I'm still trying to figure out if my schedule was too busy the first half of the year. Let me know what you think.

Congrats on the marathon finish with the tough conditions. Sounds like you stayed mentally tough.