Grandma’s Marathon 2019 Race Report
Oh goodness, where to start with this one? While I didn’t achieve my goal of a sub-2:45 marathon, in other respects, I am super proud of somehow managing a very good time on a day where honestly my legs were not feeling it from the get-go. If you had told me at mile 15 or 16 that I would have managed a 2:50:36, I might have believed you, but just barely!!!!
No joke, at mile 4, I had a brief thought that I pushed out of my head that my legs were just not feeling right today and I could have stopped right there. I have had races at the half marathon distance, especially in warmer weather, where I start feeling kind of blah but then I get some momentum as I go and finish strong, so I just tried to stay really positive and see what happened. What did happen was that I stayed on pace through 13 miles (I went through the half at 1:22:26), but felt like I was just working too much for each mile. It didn’t even feel like I was running too fast, but my quads were already just not having this course. My legs just felt kind of dead, versus feeling very effortless and at ease through mile 20 as I had felt at CIM in the fall. I saw my husband Phillip at mile 12 and told him I was in trouble. I saw him again at mile 14 and I think I told him I was just going to try to get to the end. I remember passing mile 17 and thinking of some combination of swear words and wondering how in the world I was going to run another NINE WHOLE MILES.
Below, top row (L to R): 1 & 2.) the famous rainbow archway in Chicago O’Hare, 3. & 4) Finally in Duluth! In all of these, I’m wearing the 90s Nostalgic Sweatshirt, which I basically lived in during this trip!
Bottom row just above here (L to R):
1.) race day kit layout including the Savannah Run Bra, Ella Race Shorts in emerald, and the Neon Stars and Stripes Singlet (now sold out but more singlets here!), 2.) got my number! Wearing the 90s Nostalgic Sweatshirt, 3.) the day before, after doing a pre-race 10 min. shakeout run in a random assortment of old running clothes!, 4.) Phillip with his S’Mores.
Somewhere along the line there, I realized a lot of the other women around me were also not having a good day. At this point, my mission had become to get to the end as soon as possible to thus be out of this pain as soon as possible, but also to try to get people to come with me. As I explained in my Instagram post-race post, somewhere out there I saw a sign with a quote from Gabe Grunewald, which went: “It’s ok to struggle. It’s not okay to give up” and I basically decided, after seeing this sign, that I was going to try my damnedest for the rest of this gosh darn race. I definitely got tears in my eyes after seeing this sign, because it really spoke directly to how my race was going, and I mentally steeled myself to stay tough. Right then and there, I was going to go my fastest right to the end of this thing, even if that fastest on this given day was not below a 2:45.
While I never met Gabe in person, I always admired and looked up to her. A few years ago I sent her a yoga DVD—and a beanie, because I always equate Minnesota with cold temps—and we exchanged a few messages on Instagram during all of this where it was very obvious that she was an extremely kind and thoughtful person. She’s also basically the same age as I am. When she died this past month, it felt like a very emotional event for me even though I had never gotten to meet her directly. The whole thing felt very unfair and disorienting—I think the running community at large has felt very deeply affected by the loss of Gabe far too soon.
On the Tuesday before Grandma’s, I found out that our family friend Greg who is actually really more like family, died very suddenly and unexpectedly at age 64. This was one of those people who you don’t in your wildest dreams think is going to not be around anymore, and it is almost beyond my comprehension that I won’t be able to ever go over to Suzy’s (his sister’s and my mom’s best friend’s) house over the holidays and see him again. While some relatives can wear you out over the holidays, Greg was the total OPPOSITE of that relative—he was just such a happy guy, like his siblings. I was always happy to see Greg, and I felt better about LIFE after seeing Greg. Greg just had good vibes all around. I had never seen Greg in a bad mood and I almost can’t imagine him being in a bad mood. Greg was basically the equivalent age as my own parents, and his kids Gina and Stevie are basically the same age as my siblings and I are. This whole thing was very emotionally devastating and made me want to unwind time. On Tuesday, I went for a run and cried while running.
On Saturday, when I was basically seeing spots in my vision and trying to continue run, I just kept thinking “Run for Greg” over and over and over and used this to power my steps. One thing I am proud of from this Saturday is that I passed 19 people from miles 20 to 25 (and was only passed by 6, all of whom I believe were men, though in my half delusional state at that point I’m not 100% sure). I also, despite feeling really really rough, actually finished my last couple miles significantly faster than my previous two marathons where I was 2:49:17 and 2:48:33. I know that Greg was helping me get to the end. Feeling how I felt somewhere around mile 7 for this one, I am amazed at how I ran a 2:50.
Below, you can see my splits for Grandma’s 2019 in the last column: in yellow are splits from this year’s race where I beat my splits from the previous year at Grandma’s, and in green are the splits where I was faster at Grandma’s this year than both the previous Grandma’s and CIM 2018. Mile 24 was the only mile where I wasn’t faster this year at Grandma’s, but it was only :02 slower than last year, and it was still faster than I was at CIM. If I take anything positive out of this race, for once it was that I did a lot better over the last 10k!
My Training This Spring
My training this spring was definitely a little interesting, especially at the beginning—I really didn’t run for ANY of January and February because of the Achilles issue from after CIM. (See more on that in this post here.)
From CIM on Dec. 2 through February 13, I did basically zero running. By week, I ran the following mileage totals:
Thank you heavenly Father for Dr. Wilder here in Charlottesville as well as some astute Googling research on my part which got me back on track, as from there I ended up good to go! Alleluia! Again, if you are suffering or know of anyone suffering from an Achilles issue, please read this!
I could sit around all day and think about what I might have done differently to have felt better at Grandma’s, but I’m not going to be too hard on myself here—a lot still went right even if it didn’t go perfectly. That said, here are three specific things that did not perhaps help me:
1.) Honestly, it’s just hard for me to run a marathon this late into June. If I hadn’t been delayed by the Achilles issue, I 100% would not have gone back to Grandma’s and would have tried a March marathon. (This was actually my original plan, to run either the Newport News or the Shamrock full, before I realized I had the Achilles injury. Both of those marathons are much easier to travel to than Grandma’s, which for me, meant traveling from one small airport to another in northern Minnesota, OR taking two flights to Minneapolis to then drive another 2.5 hours north. Both of those Virginia races are also as flat as a pancake, which seems to work better for me than that downhill business!) I just greatly prefer sticking with the structure of the academic semester since it’s easier to map my training onto it, so that’s why December works so well for me, but that’s also why I didn’t want to wait until nearly two months after the spring semester was over to race a marathon in the hottest season of the year.
2.) I know some people love the Grandma’s course, but honestly I didn’t feel great on it either this year or last year—my quads and legs don’t respond well to those downhills. I’ve felt a lot stronger at both CIM (more shorter, rolling type hills) and Kiawah Island (much flatter though very windy golf cart paths…Note to Kiawah Island!: If y’all change your course a bit—and ensured it wasn’t a tenth of a mile long as it definitely is—it could be the “fastest course in the east” like CIM is for the West Coast!).
3.) The June timing is more tricky for my particular type of training and living here in Charlottesville, Virginia. I race a lot, nearly every weekend—some of these races I prioritize, some function more as workouts. In the fall, I have a great set of local or nearly local races to lead up to a December marathon. This is not the case for June in Virginia. I did run two trail races that I always do at the end of May—these beat me up a little more than usual because they were significantly hotter than normal (mid-80s) and the courses followed the non-rain route (read: REAL trail here with a lot of scrambling). I also usually do a 5k the weekend before my marathon: this past marathon was actually the only one of the 9 lifetime ones I’ve run where I did not do a 5k the weekend before. Why? There literally were none to do that wouldn’t have involved very significant driving. Instead I did a really nice competitive 10k in D.C. two weeks out, but it just probably didn’t have the same effect. (Side note: am I excited to NOT be racing a marathon next late spring/summer? You better believe it!)
4.) I would rather it have been 20 degrees cooler for the race itself. Is this being a little picky? Maybe, but I don’t care because I’m trying to set myself up to run really really fast.
I think that all things considered, this whole spring training block did function really well in terms of laying a base of mileage and work to help me for the fall. It’s a really positive thing that I was able to feel really good on the higher mileage—and I think those longer long runs played a role in my staying strong in the latter half of a difficult full. Reflecting back on this season, I am just happy I had one at all after the craziness of not running in January and February!
More on The Race Itself
I thought the race was pretty warm temperature-wise! It was definitely in the 60s by mid-race, and there was absolutely no shade on the course nor a single cloud in the sky. It was really really sunny. (I am honestly quite tan right now, so much so that people keep asking me if I’ve been to the beach—I haven’t!—but after the race, I could see another tan line on my legs marking the top of my compression socks and the bottom of my shorts.) Through the last 5 or 6 water stops—which were, thank you, thank you, God, placed at every mile for the last 10k—I was dumping two cups of water on my head, one from the very first round of volunteers, and another from the ones at the end of the line. One thing that I really do applaud Grandma’s for is the well-manned water stations over the back end of the course. I’d definitely have liked more than a single GU station at mile 17, as that just made me terrifically nervous about how I was going to carry extra GUs with me, but the water stops were plentiful and definitely needed!
I’m hoping the next marathon I run will be that one where everything feels smooth and (relatively) effortless…sort of like how I felt last year at CIM until mile 20 (but remember I had only done two long runs of 16 and 17 miles!). This race was almost the opposite of that, but I’m tired of thinking about that, so you probably are too! Instead, here are my splits and Garmin data. Note I didn’t stop my watch right at the finish; I was just so relieved to be at the end that I forgot!
Click on an image below to enlarge.
Takeaways/Where To Next?
I’ve already signed up for CIM, booked my hotel, and am looking forward to running in California. Along the way, I’m going to prioritize racing some halfs—I think these really help me—but otherwise I’m going to do my normal set of fall races. I’ve got a good, solid calendar that seems to work well for December marathon performance, so I’m going to stick with that!
I had the most evenly split final 10k of any 2:50 or faster marathon I’ve run.
I stayed very mentally tough and didn’t give up.
2:50 on a bad day bodes well for a good day.
Below (all photos, L-R): 1-3. Exploring the Walker Art Center and Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis, 4. a swing in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 5. a nice Corner room view at the Marquette Hotel, 5. Phillip at Minnehaha Falls which we really enjoyed!, in all photos, I’m wearing the Serenity Tie-Dye Tank which is linked here, and you can find all graphics including other tie-dyes here!