Grandma's Marathon 2018 Race Report
Phew, and here we are at the end of the spring running season! After running a 2:52:47 at the Kiawah Island Marathon in December of 2017, I knew I wanted to do a spring marathon rather than wait an entire year for another crack at a sub-2:45. I essentially ran my 2:52 at Kiawah by myself except for the company of a few men at various points, and I also wondered whether a larger race might have some benefits in terms of running company! At this point, I have a pretty well established flow during the year of races, base building, and my off season: usually I just do a late fall marathon, use the rest of Dec. through February as first my break and then base building mode, and then race through late May, go back to base mode for most of the summer with some more important races starting back up in August, and then continue on until another late fall marathon. In doing Grandma’s this spring, I realized that I actually really like my current structure because it largely follows the academic calendar: Kiawah is always the first weekend after the fall semester is over, and the end of my spring season is typically not too far off the end of the spring semester. By far the most challenging part of this marathon buildup was the final weeks leading up to the marathon, where I somewhat lost the structure of teaching my UVa yoga classes every weekday morning, in addition to having a two-week break for some of my other yoga classes. I knew I was in great shape come May 15, but I definitely worried about what the effect of less yoga teaching would be on my running performance. If I learned anything over this spring, it really is that more yoga DOES make you faster. On the flip side of things, I also figured that this might be helpful as part of a taper—maybe I didn’t need to teach 13 yoga classes the week before my marathon—but it definitely didn’t help with giving me a LOT more time to be thinking about my actual marathon. I think the next spring marathon I do will be a little earlier if possible so I don’t have so much time to just be thinking about it! I’m in the lottery for London next spring, so we will see how that goes!
My Training This Spring
I have had the best spring of running in my entire life. After my 5-minute PR at Kiawah at the end of 2017 (2:57 to 2:52), I knew I was on the right track training-wise. In that fall buildup, I decided it was finally time to get my mileage a little higher than the 30s, and my training from August to just before Kiawah included 5 weeks in the 40s and two weeks at 50 and 54. I knew I wanted to try to get that a little higher this spring, but was not attached to any specific mileage goal and was willing to adjust based on what felt right for my body at the time. From January 1, 2018 through my marathon, my mileage was as follows: 17, 27, 35, 35, 32 (Feb.), 35, 40, 42, 41 (March), 40, 42, 37, 48 (April), 50, 54, 47, 51, 53 (May), 57, 50, 40, 41 (June), 30, then race week. This spring ended up being nine weeks in the 40s, and six weeks in the 50s! My higher mileage definitely helped, but I was also running PRs by mid-March, so I am not naïve enough to believe that this mileage was everything—I know I was experiencing fitness gains from the entire fall as well with my increased yoga load each week since mid-August. The main difference between the fall and spring was a. my increased mileage, but also b. that I was more acclimated to all the yoga I was doing (a class each weekday morning, in addition to classes every evening but Tuesday, and an additional afternoon class on Sunday). I don’t think I’ll increase my mileage any more than this for this upcoming fall; being primarily in the 40s and 50s felt just right without overdoing it….I’m getting a lot of exercise on a weekly basis besides running! I have a lot of reasons to feel confident in my training right now, but especially due to my PRs in every distance from the mile to now the marathon. I’ve now run a 5:07.1 mile (PR by :06), 17:27 road 5k (PR by :15), 35:54 road 10k (PR by :50, only :09 from my track lifetime best), 1:19:31 half marathon (PR by nearly 2:00), and now a 2:49:17 full marathon (PR by 3:30).
Below: Pre-race, enjoying the firepits near the hotel, and some really good food at the Duluth Grill (where we also went after the race!)
The Race Itself
I was feeling ready to get this marathon show on the road for quite a while, and was very excited when actual race day finally rolled around. The morning of the race, Phillip walked with me to the elite shuttle departing from the Radisson. Grandma’s is a point-to-point course, so everyone is bussed to the starting line out in Two Harbors. I was happy to be on the elite bus, since it was a Coach bus and had a bathroom—the alternatives were the school buses that everyone else took (definitely no bathrooms) or the train (also bathrooms on the train but definitely the scenic route!). On the bus, I ate my oatmeal, banana with peanut butter, and half of a Nature Valley granola bar that I added more peanut butter to just before 90 minutes to the start of the race. This is what I pretty much always eat, though I add the oatmeal in there for marathons so I have some extra in me. Random fun tip: if you aren’t sure you can get coffee on race day, or are just very particular like I am and want a hot Americano, then bring a small Yeti water bottle with you and get your drink the night before. I did this and my Americano was still hot!! Upon arriving in Two Harbors, we all collectively walked up the road to the elite tent, where there were also about 5 port-a-potties. I was glad I had gone to the bathroom on the bus (hardly anyone else did), as immediately everyone got in the bathroom line and it was about 40 people long! We really didn’t have too much time before the start, so I sat in the tent (avoiding the mud from the big rainstorms that had hit), and made a few new friends including Ashley Nichols, who was running her first marathon. I waited in the bathroom line and it moved reasonably fast, though several of us girls definitely just went into the woods when it was closer to the time to move towards the start.
At the starting line, I was in fact overjoyed to see a familiar face in Keira D’Amato, who lives nearby in Richmond and is very fast, and coming off a great Boston marathon! Keira and I talked at the start, and she introduced me to her new friend Kelly, who was in a Oiselle kit. They were both going to start out conservatively and run 6:15s, which was exactly my plan, so this was already looking to be a good day as I wasn’t going to have to run hard all by myself for a very long time. The gun went off, and we almost immediately found each other in a small little pack. I just told myself to relax and stay with them, and then I would get done what I had come to do that day. As we made our way down the road, I became aware that our pack was bigger, probably about 7 or 8 women. One benefit of being an elite athlete is that you can drop off your water bottles the night before, and they will be ready for you the following day. However, I totally had trouble finding my bottles, and essentially came to a dead stop to try to grab most of them. I had tried to make them visible with neon red pipe cleaners as handles--I would still really recommend the pipe cleaner handles as this was the only reason I was able to grab one of the last bottles! I totally did not see and therefore missed my first bottle at mile 3, which then made me very paranoid about getting my bottle at mile 5, in particular because there was my first and very key GU attached to it. I did manage to grab this one, and then told one of the girls in my pack how relieved I was about getting it! I think I got the rest of my other GUs, but there was one later water stop that I swear my bottle was not there! I was certainly not going to take someone else’s—that seems like asking for the worst kind of karma!—but that was definitely not a great feeling to have to keep running without it and losing maybe 5 seconds by trying to look for it. By the later stops, I started yelling “59!” ahead of time so the volunteers could at least try to point to my bottle for me (they’re not allowed to hand them to us). (FYI: bottles were labeled with our bib number.) On a positive note, the elite stops were just a table or so ahead of the regular stops, which were very well-manned, so I had no trouble grabbing both water and Powerade when I did miss end up one of my own bottles.
Below: all the data from the race. I actually feel better when I see I didn't totally tank in the last 10k even when I felt really pretty rough!
I was rolling along, feeling good, and feeling especially good being in this pack of women working together. I felt like I was on a little team out there, and I periodically imagined us all arriving to the finish line together and how I would then give everyone a hug and tell them I loved them! While I was running, I felt like I was part of a big Care Bear Stare and just emitting feel good energy to everyone around me and they were doing the same. We rolled into the 10 mile mark just around 1:02:08, and then hit the half mark in 1:21:41. (I should note that this half split is just 10 seconds slower than my former half PR prior to this year! So, I think I'm making progress here!) Still feeling good, and now I was relieved because I had a time buffer just in case. I was right on track, with every mile 6:17 or faster until mile 16, when I ran a 6:25 and thought “uh oh”—I had noticed that a lot of what we were running was slightly downhill, and tried to just tell myself that I would be okay, though it did remind me a little too much of Steamtown back in 2015, when my quads felt like someone had run over them with a car or something. By miles 17 and 18, I was definitely swearing internally to myself because I knew I was in some trouble. The rest of my legs felt perfectly FINE. In fact, they felt AWESOME, and 6:15 was no trouble at all cardio-wise! ….calves were saying “let’s do this!” but my quads were like “uh, no”. I saw Phillip just around the half and gave him a thumbs up, and told him I was good, but then I saw him later around 18 or so and told him I was in some trouble. I knew I still have some buffer to work with but my quads were cramping up like there was no tomorrow. At this point I lost contact with my main pack and was running alone. Then, just past the mile 18 mark, another pack of women caught me, led by two more of my new friends Katie Hynes and Kir Selert Faraud. Katie was looking really strong and told me to stay with them, as did another woman next to me in the pack. This pulled me out of my slow miles to a 6:09 for mile 19, but then when we went through the next water stop, the group largely dispersed (it was sometimes tough to reconnect after the water stations!). At this point I was just hanging on, and thought I was probably going to have a very tough time pulling out the needed 6:15s for the rest of the way to beat 2:45. Once I knew I was not going to do this for sure, at the mile 24 point, I really just wanted to get to the finish line intact without having to walk or something—I probably could have pushed more in the last two to easily get a 2:48, but at that point I really didn’t care—I knew I was going to PR, and it didn’t really matter by how much if it wasn’t going to be by 7:48 or more! I was very happy to see the finish and my husband, though I was also bummed that I had not run faster.
Below: before and after (looking kind of cold, also this is what you look like when you're both in pain/happy to be done!),
The positive takeaways from this are that now I KNOW I can run faster than a 2:45: if my quads had felt okay, I would have been more around a 2:43-44, and I think fitness-wise I’m actually a 2:42-43 on my best day right now. I also know to avoid net downhill courses, which for whatever reason just don’t agree very well with my quads. In 2015 at Steamtown (also net downhill, but actually worse in the opening 6 miles!!) I knew I could break 3:00, but ran a 3:03 in quite possibly the worst pain I’ve ever had while running, like I was actually almost crying in the last mile, but I followed this up with a rather conservatively run 2:57 at CIM two months later. One negative thing about marathons is that you just can’t bust out another one the next weekend, so for now, I have to bide my time, have my time off (which really helps fitness later on, I’m convinced), and get focused on some other pre-marathon races for the fall. As of now, it’s looking like I’ll be running CIM, which is also a rather comforting thought since I’ve run the course before and had a very good experience there. Along the way, I’d really like to break 17:00 in the 5k, 35:00 in the 10k, and 1:18 in the half over the next year, and I know if I do those things, I can also really get the marathon goals that I’ve set for myself too. So, I know I can be faster, but I also know I’m very much on the right track for where I ultimately want to be!
Other fun moments from the day:
At one point, our big pack of women passed a big orange diamond-shaped construction-type sign with the words "Marathon in Progress" that made us all kind of laugh in unison....I mean, duhhh, "marathon in progress." Who else was going to see this sign but us runners?
I really enjoyed the collective camaraderie of the ladies out there. There is a much smaller chance I was running a 6:09 19th mile if it weren't for the peppy enthusiasm and encouragement of Katie Hynes and company.
I was so so thankful to have my husband Phillip out there on the course. I may not have that OTQ YET but DAMN, I won the lottery when it comes to husbands! It really does take a small village to get a person successfully to the end of a marathon--the biggest thanks go to my husband Phillip, and my running buddy Courtney Sigloh, without whom I would have run much slower and much less joyfully all spring of 2018!
Below: a post-race photo shoot on the shores of Lake Superior for the Yoga Beach Tee and Neon Fruits Singlet! These six were my favorite photos to come out of it. This was actually a lot of fun, and it was so refreshing to be out in the cooler air after the intense humidity and heat of Virginia. (Click to enlarge! I like the fifth one since it looks like I'm using Lake Superior as an ice bath! Shown: Yoga Beach Tee, Neon Fruits Singlet)