Justin’s 2016 Grandma’s Marathon Recap
The view driving down into Duluth is one of my favorite sights in the world. Winding down a long descent on the final stretch of 35W, you are given an amazing view of Lake Superior and the city of Duluth. You’d think by now this view wouldn’t phase me, but as per usual, driving into Duluth on Friday morning, I had to jerk the steering wheel a bit to prevent hitting the median ( then apologize to my good friend Jamie for my distraction).
The Duluth and Two Harbors area of the North Shore is one of my favorite places to visit and spend time unwinding. Throw in the festivities of Grandma’s Marathon weekend, and now you’ve combined my favorite place on Earth with my greatest passion – it doesn’t get any better!
Our first stop was the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) to check out the expo and packet pick up. Despite things already getting busy in the early afternoon, the process was smooth and we were in and out without issue. We made a quick pass through each aisle of booths, chatted with a few people, and were on our way.
I had signed up for the William A. Irvin 5k that evening to use as an easy shake out run (because why not?). The race had a great new course this year, starting behind the DECC, passing through Bayfront Park (where much of the weekend’s festivities were held), turning along Railroad Street, running back past Canal Park and down along the Lakewalk, passing Grandma’s Restaurant, and finally finishing at the head of the iconic William A. Irvin Ore Boat.
The course was a fantastic loop, allowing spectators to easily see runners from several locations along the course. My only criticism is that there were a couple transitions from sidewalk to road, which can be tricky to maneuver. While the transitions didn’t occur with a step down from a curb, it would have been nice to have course marshals at each of these areas to help navigate runners. Otherwise, I highly recommend this fun, quick tour of the Canal Park area!
Next up: dinner and an early bedtime to prepare for the main event!
As always, sleep didn’t come easy, but when my alarm went off at 5:00 A.M., I was anything but tired. After fueling up with oatmeal and coffee, I crowded into a shuttle van with several other runners. It was a beautiful morning, if not a bit warm, but I knew once we got closer to the lake things would cool down.
I went through my usual warm-up routine and enjoyed being surrounded by thousands of other runners, all excited and nervous about the culmination of their hard work. Everyone had their own routine to deal with their nerves, from jogging or dynamic warm-ups to lying in the grass, basking in the morning sun. Nervous laughter and excited chatter filled the air.
As we lined up, I found a few Mill City Running teammates and asked my friend Doron, “You ready, buddy?” He responded with an uncharacteristic “I think so…” I shook my head and said, “Wrong answer – you’ve got this, we’ve got this!” Pounding on his shoulder with a fist, he repeated, “I’m ready, we’ve got this!”
The Race Begins
The countdown was on and soon the race to Canal Park was underway. I was fortunate to be part of a great pack of runners, including several other Mill City Running teammates who kept the early miles fun and easy. As expected, the breeze off the lake was cooling and eased fears of the anticipated heat.
The first half went almost exactly according to my race plan. Hitting the halfway point at 1:20:25, I was within striking distance of my 2:40 goal, however, the cool breeze had started to fade and our group was starting spread out. A few runners had fallen back for various reasons, and several had started to pull away. At this point, I just wanted to maintain my pace and keep Doron and our friend Matt in my sight (since they had similar goals to mine).
Eventually, the heat took it’s toll. Slowly my pace started to fade as the breeze from the lake stopped all together. It felt like someone had cranked up the furnace and the heat and humidity was visibly rising from the road ahead.
At each aid station I dumped cold water over my head and squeezed cold sponges on my wrists and neck to try and cool my body temperature. I am extremely grateful for the unbridled enthusiasm of the volunteers at the aid stations and loved seeing the amount of children and young adults helping out! (I’m sure they were hot, too!)
Lemon Drop Hill
Eventually, Lemon Drop Hill loomed in the distance. I knew once I tackled that last obstacle, the worst would be over. At the base of the hill, I put my head down and charged to the top as best I could. I think it was here when I knew that today wasn’t my day. My legs were jelly, and more than once they almost gave out on my way uphill. I knew I still had four more miles to go; I knew there was no way I going to stop running. With every step, I dug deep and kept my legs churning. “Run with your heart!” Jamie yelled as I turned onto Superior Street. My heart was all that I had left, so that’s what I did.
The support of the cheering crowd, Mill City teammates, and Jamie on her bike, yelling at me, are what carried me through the final miles. Making the final turn toward the finish line, I remember thinking, “I don’t remember the line being that far away!” I literally had tunnel vision; I didn’t see the runner in front of me stumble or hear the shouting crowds around me. All I knew was that my legs were failing and I only had a couple hundred meters go.
There was no final push, no burst of adrenaline, only pure relief as I crossed the finish line with a new personal best of 2:49:05. Hands on my knees, I almost fell to ground on shaky legs; a couple of the great volunteers gave me water and made sure I was okay. I caught my breath, drank some water, then dumped the rest of the bottle on my head, feeling some life return to my legs. Thanking them, and as many other volunteers as possible, I kept moving, catching up with Doron and Matt who finished with amazing times of 2:40:42 and 2:45:22!
Before separating to find family and friends, (and beginning our respective recovery feeding frenzys), we posed for a quick picture together, smiling in our triumph over the heat.
Grandma’s Marathon is easily one of my favorite events. It is well organized and well run with amazing volunteers and community support on a beautiful, scenic course. (Not to mention easy access to the best post race ice bath anyone could ask for!) I always look forward to marathon weekend and cannot wait to take part in some form again next year!
There are always too many people to thank after a big event like this; so many friends and family support each of us in various ways throughout marathon training. I would like to thank everyone at Mill City Running for creating such an awesome community of runners and coach Dennis Barker for coaching me through an amazing training cycle (and holding me back when I needed it!).
It’s really tough to come to terms with not hitting a goal you have worked hard to achieve, but just because you don’t hit that goal on a particular day, doesn’t mean your training was in vain. Thanks to Jamie for helping me to try and keep everything in perspective (and for letting me rant about my race despite recording a new personal best). Congratulations to all on a hard fought race, see you again next year!