Posts Tagged ‘marathon

09
Nov
11

Race Report: 2011 ING New York City Marathon

It didn’t feel like I was doing a marathon this weekend. I wasn’t experiencing the usual mental pressure or worries about my legs and insides. Even on Saturday morning as my wife and I headed to expo it didn’t hit me that I was doing a marathon. Getting up at 4:30am on Sunday and walking in the cold and dark to the train to catch the ferry to Staten Island it didn’t feel like I was doing a marathon. Even when I wandered around Fort Wadsworth it still didn’t feel like I was doing a marathon. This wasn’t a new experience. I had a semi-disastrous 4:37 when I ran this race two years ago. I knew what it was like. I was even once again a Green Bib, which means that aside from the slight change to the green course, everything was the same. There was no need to watch course highlight videos, plan out my strategy for hills, or think about where the fans were going to be. I still remembered for 2009. The question I went into the morning with was whether or not my insides were going to rise up and attack me again.

Achievement Unlocked: 2011 ING New York City Marathon Bib Acquired

Achievement Unlocked: 2011 ING New York City Marathon Bib Acquired

The expo, was as expected, a little crazy. The space they had seemed to be enough for the experience, but there’s just something about things happening in New York that turns everything into chaos. If you’re a tourist you blame New Yorkers. If you’re a New Yorker you blame tourists. It was a little surprising to see that at 10am on Saturday they were out of men’s medium shirts. Good thing I take a large for long sleeve shirts. You’d think this would be one of those things that NYRR would have figured out. They clearly should have information from previous marathons about what types of shirts they needed. Anyway, although I always have the best intentions to buy stuff at the expo, I usually just wander through and never look at much of anything. This was the same way. The only thing I was going to pick up was a pace band, unfortunately the Timex booth was already out of bands for all times between 3:15 and 4:15. Youch.

Next morning I got up at 4:30am and did a short run down to the train. Just enough to get my legs going. I knew there wasn’t going to be much of any place to workout in Fort Wadsworth, so this was going to be my main chance. As usual, the closer I got to Grand Central the more people were on the train. Lots of foreigners who had no idea what train they needed to be on. Luckily the conductor didn’t seem too annoyed when I held the door open for a group of Danish runners at Union Square. I continued to chat with some of the folks into the ferry terminal and across to Staten Island. I felt like the expert being as it was going to be my ninth marathon and my second time running New York.

When I arrived at Fort Wadsworth I had three goals for the day. None of them involved a PR. Here they are in ascending order of possible disappointment if I failed them:

  1. Not get the hiccups
  2. Finish the race
  3. Avoid pooping my pants
Me in the last green corral for wave 1 shortly before the start of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Me in the last green corral for wave 1 shortly before the start of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Thankfully, I’ve never had problems with #3, and I’ve never started a race I didn’t finish. This meant I would probably get at least two out of three of my goals. The first one has been my nemesis. I’ve had a wonderful flareup, which might be related to hiccups and running.

I was fortunate enough to have a late ferry this year, 6:45am. Combined with a 9:40am start time, this meant that my ferry to start time was about three hours, much better than 2009 when I had the 5am ferry and started at 10am. The ferry really is one of the most interesting parts of the marathon. The only people on the ferry at that hour of the day are marathoners and, from my biased observations, people heading home to Staten Island from a night out on the town the night before.

Unfortunately, I was, once again on the bottom (green bibs represent!). Fortunately they made an announcement that said “urinating on the bridge is both unsanitary and unpleasant”. I really wish they would just said “Green runners, be careful of pee coming down from runners above you!”. Fortunately, I knew better. The German guy I saw get hit, not so much. Starting on the lower deck also meant that initial GPS readings were going to be rubbish. Oh well. We can deal with these things.

The green wave 1 starting line at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

The green wave 1 starting line at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

2011 New York City Marathon Split Results from Runkeeper

2011 New York City Marathon Split Results from Runkeeper

The beginning of the race went quite well. My second mile was WAY too fast and I knew I was going to pay for it. Somewhere around a 7:20 mile. What can I say, running under the bridge messes your timing up. Brooklyn was, as usual, great. I loved all the kids giving out high fives, it really helped to keep my pace going. I knew I was around a 3:48 pace, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up for the entire race.

Me at Mile 11.5 of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Me at Mile 11.5 of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Although I knew this pace was too hot for me, I was doing far better than 2009. In that race I ran the first nine miles with another guy aiming for a four hour pace. I lost him about mile 9 and shortly after began to have horrible hiccups and acid reflux. I eventually vomited in Queens and had to do a combination of running/walking to the finish. I was still strong. Didn’t feel overly fatigued and proceeded over the Pulaski Bridge out of Brooklyn and into Queens with half the race behind me.

2011 New York City Marathon Official Splits - Part 1

2011 New York City Marathon Official Splits - Part 1

So what happened between the half and mile 14 (mile 15 in RunKeeper. Thanks jitter!)? Well, that’s simple. I had to use the restroom. Those nasty flare up problems. Yup, more information than you required. However, I learned from the 2009 marathon where I vomited from using a restroom later in Queens — the scent of a pretzel cart burning pretzels plus upset stomach plus restroom stank did not work so well. It was pleased that I was able to return from the restroom at about the same pace as before, although my legs did start to get wary and I could tell I was slowing down.

2011 New York City Marathon Official Splits - Part 2

2011 New York City Marathon Official Splits - Part 2

I managed to keep up a decent pace for the rest of the race. My wife managed to spot me at 87th Street as I cruised up 1st avenue although I completely missed her. Even the run through the Bronx, which normally is horrible, was feeling good this year. The improvements to the Willis Avenue bridge were noticeable although the loss of some lanes made it very tight. I had to strategize how to get around people who were having problems with the elevation change. A huge thanks goes to the Van Cortlandt Track Club, the Japanese drummers, and the fire fighters for keeping our short jaunt through the Bronx interesting. I exited the Bronx in great shape at mile 21 and proceeded into Harlem.

Me Full Derp at Mile 23 of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Me Full Derp at Mile 23 of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Now, here’s the thing about Harlem. It’s always dangerous to drive in Harlem. This isn’t because people will do anything to you, it’s more because people are very unpredictable about crossing the street. They tend to cross wherever is most convenient. This, sadly, was also the trend as we ran through Harlem on Sunday morning. More than once I had to shout “Get off the course” to people who decided to slowly cross the street. In the future NYRR should deploy marshals in Harlem (and to a lesser extent the Hasidic parts of Brooklyn) to minimize these problems.

Anyway, the last really difficult part of the race was the climb up Fifth Avenue before entering Central Park. This is only about a 100 foot climb, but when you’ve got 23 miles behind you climbing 100 feet in 3/4ths of a mile seems nearly impossible. Luckily, my wife found me for the third and last time around 93rd street. As you can see below, I had no problem going full derp for the photo.

I think this was the point where I finally realized I was running a marathon. It wasn’t because of the crowds or fact I just saw mile 23 and that a four hour marathon was within my grasp. It was because my legs felt like they wanted to give out. The muscles right above my knees were weak. This was a new sensation. So, I did something that I really hoped not to do. I stopped to walk for a short bit. This gave my legs a chance to recharge, but it was nearly impossible to start running again. As the miles ticked down I knew I would finish under four hours, but the bigger question is whether or not I would beat my personal record of 3:58:17 set three weeks ago in Hartford, CT. As the 800m sign appeared on 59th Street I realized I could do it, but it would be tight. I had about five minutes to run the last 800m. Sure, on a normal day that would be no problem, but my legs were killing me and it was uphill.

However, here’s where the crowd really pulled me through. It’s amazing how thousands of people shouting indistinctly for people that are certainly not me can make me run faster. I was heaving by the time that I saw the 200m sign, but I knew I could finish it. I pulled myself across the finish line and my watch read 3:57:58. I couldn’t remember if I started it early, but I knew I had stopped it late. I had beaten my PR. Not by much, but it was progress. I had run a good race and earned my medal.

Victory! A new PR at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon!

Victory! A new PR at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon!

Of course, the hardest part of the New York City marathon is the finish. Depending on your bib number you may be forced to walk twenty or more blocks to get your checked gear. It was a slow march that took me up to the American Museum of Natural History to get my gear and put my sweats back on. I thought briefly about sitting down, but decided that would be a bad idea. I slipped on my sweats, and slowly trudged to the subway station for a ride to meet my wife at Grand Central Terminal.

There were some things that went very well during the race. I managed to consume a couple of goos without problem. I didn’t vomit at all. I felt pretty good. A few things went bad. Going to the bathroom cost me a couple of minutes thanks to my flareup. But in the end, a PR is a PR, even if it’s only 32 seconds. Now, if I could only figure out what is next.

Keep Running.

16
Oct
11

Race Report: 2011 ING Hartford Marathon

There are times in life when you know you’re making a questionable decision. Usually my wife has the common sense to talk me out of these stupid decisions and make me do something more sensible. Sadly, living 1000 miles apart means that’s not always possible.

Anyway, I was sitting in my office over lunch on Thursday wondering what I should do for my Saturday run to try and figure out this annoying hiccup problem that messed me up during the Chicago Marathon on Sunday. Somehow I start poking around on the MarathonGuide and see that there is a marathon in Hartford, CT on Saturday morning. That’s kinda close, only about two hours from here. They even allowed registration at the expo. After a call to the marathon to confirm that you could register for the marathon the day before the race I was ready to have my wife talk some sense into me. Sadly, she had a lot to do and there was no talk of “You just ran a marathon” or “Are you sure that’s a good idea with New York in three weeks?”.

Well, maybe the hotel situation would figure everything out. Grandma’s Marathon can be prohibitive because it is so expensive to get a hotel room. Maybe Hartford was going to be $200/nt for a hotel room? Nope, rooms by the airport for $70/nt. Crap. Guess I had talked myself into another marathon, just a week after Chicago.

My goals for this marathon were much more mild:

  1. Treat it like a long training run
  2. Don’t get the hiccups
  3. Experiment with alternatives for aid stations

After a drive that took way too long for the 100 miles between here and Hartford (note to readers: never take I-95) I arrived in Hartford around 4pm. I had managed to find a simply awesome place through Airbnb that was within walking distance of everything in Hartford for only about $60, so I parked by the place I was staying for the night. I proceeded to explore downtown Hartford, which took about 15 minutes, and wandered into the XL Center and quickly registered for the marathon. Surprisingly there was another person next to me who was also registering for the marathon only 16 hours before the start of the race. I also signed up for the pasta party, because, let’s face it, eating at Olive Garden is a sign of desperation, eating at Olive Garden alone might as well come with a free forever alone forehead tattoo.

The pasta party, also known as “Run Fasta, Eat Fasta!” was well done, but a little messy. The part was held in a tent in the park and it had been raining the entire day. Everything was mud. But, the pasta was good and it’s always good to meet other marathoners. After the race a good number of us walked over to the historic Wadsworth Atheneum for a showing of “Hood to Coast“.

Me Ready to Go Before the Hartford Marathon

Me Ready to Go Before the Hartford Marathon

Because of the close proximity to the starting line I didn’t need to wake up too terribly early. Also, I didn’t need to wait in line for porta potties. I threw my Chicago Marathon shirt on, but made sure to cover most of the shirt with my bib so I wasn’t “That guy”. The day had changed from windy and rainy the night before to beautiful and cool in the morning. A few degrees cooler might have been better, but after the heat of Chicago six days before, I wasn’t going to complain.

The Connecticut State Capitol at the Starting Line of the 2011 ING Hartford Marathon

The Connecticut State Capitol at the Starting Line of the 2011 ING Hartford Marathon

The start and finish of the race were around the Connecticut State Capitol. Like most state capitols it is well manicured and quite pretty to look at. While it didn’t have the pizzazz of starting in Grant Park in Chicago, it was one of the nicer places to start a marathon. There were three races that all started at the same time, the marathon, half marathon, and a 5k. The Marathon was capped at 3000 runners. The half marathon was capped at 7000 runners and I have no idea how many runners were in the 5k. The marathon and half marathon shared the same starting line.

The Mixed Start of the Full and Half Marathons

The Mixed Start of the Full and Half Marathons

The start went off quite well considering there were 10000 runners and not much of a seeding system. However, the pacers got to starting line very late. Therefore, the 3:30 pace team lined up behind the signs for 9min/mi runners. Yeah, that’s not going to cause problems. I made friends with a lawyer named Bob who was running his first, and probably only marathon at the age of 41. We spent most of the first couple of miles saying “We really need to slow down”, however, we no idea how much. Most mile markers didn’t have clocks with them and both of us had conveniently forgotten our watches.

2011 Hartford Marathon Runkeeper Splits

2011 Hartford Marathon Runkeeper Splits


About mile 2 the 3:30 pace team finally passed us. Somewhere around mile 5 the 3:45 pace team caught up with us. Then we ran in front of the 3:50 pace team for quite a while. We kept on trying to slow down, but always failed, it just seemed like the 3:50 pace team slowed down an equal amount. Around mile seven Bob had to take off to use the facilities, and I decided I would stick around with the 3:50 team, something I did until mile 20.

The big experiments here were in how I handled aid stations. I would usually walk through most of the aid station, chomping some tums or pepto-bismol tablets at the start of each aid station and then grabbing some water at the end of the station. One in a while I’d eat some Clif Shot Blocks. I usually had no problem catching back up to the 3:50 pace group.

Miles 10-23 of the race were rather uneventful. This was largely an out and back portion of the course. We had good support from fans and at aid stations. Running with the pace group was helpful as the leader would call out for their pace at each mile. They were doing a little under a 8:30min/mi. The pace leader seemed rather unaware that this put them on a 3:43 marathon pace. At mile 20 I peeled off to use a restroom and start to take it easy. My stomach was feeling okay but not super. I still had quite a bit of energy left in me, but I didn’t want to kill myself because I had accomplished my goal of a good training run and I needed to drive myself 100 miles back to New York after the race.

The final six miles were done as runs with longer walks around the aid stations. Usually about 10 minute miles there. I kept track of how much time I had in my head and by the time I reached 25 miles it was 3:46 into the race. Unless I really strolled I had it made.

I absolutely can’t describe how good it felt to bolt through that finish line with a clock time that read under 4:00. Official time was 3:58:17. Somehow I had managed to PR and get my first marathon under hours. For the second time ever I was completely happy with my race (the first being Grandma’s this last June). It was a truly good day.

I Earned This Medal! Sub 4 at Hartford.

I Earned This Medal! Sub 4 at Hartford.

Now, I’m not certain if this fixed all of my problems. My hiccups could still be related to something that I didn’t change, like ulcerative colitis. While I didn’t hiccup during the race, my stomach didn’t feel great during the race. In the recovery area after the race it took me 45 minutes to eat two small fruit cups and a small portion of yogurt. My muscles also cramped heavily in the recovery area — a sure sign of being low on electrolytes. If I’m going to nix Gatorade Endurance then I’ll need to find a better way to get electrolytes into my system. I’ve got some hammer Endurolytes and Perpetuem that I’ll try out on my next run. Also, I’m going to try some Zantac to see if that helps out at all.

In any case, it should be an interesting couple of weeks of body experimentation. With luck in another three weeks I’ll have a race report of a successful NYC Marathon. For now, I’m just going to relish two marathons in a week, culminating with my best marathon ever.

Shirt, Bib, and Medal from a Great Race - 2011 ING Hartford Marathon

Shirt, Bib, and Medal from a Great Race - 2011 ING Hartford Marathon


Keep running.

16
Oct
11

Race Report: 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Part 3)

In part 1 of my writeup of the Chicago Marathon I detailed what happened before the marathon. In part 2 I covered everything up to about mile 16 — also known as the fun part of the race. Part 3, this part, covers what went so terribly wrong.

Mile 23 of the Chicago Marathon. I'm Not Looking so Happy.

Mile 23 of the Chicago Marathon. I'm Not Looking so Happy.

2011 Chicago Marathon Runkeeper Splits

2011 Chicago Marathon Runkeeper Splits

Shortly after mile 16 I started to feel some burning in my chest. I knew this was not a good sign and recognized it from previous marathons. I knew that the hiccups were coming, and when the hiccups come then often times vomit isn’t far behind.

When I get the hiccups during a marathon they’re progressive. When they start out I can run for short periods. By the end of a race I just want to stop and puke all over the place. This really wasn’t any different. By mile 18 I was struggling to run more than 2 minutes at a time without feeling like I was going to puke. By mile 23 when I saw Kristina around Illinois Tech, our undergrad alma mater I could barely run at all. Luckily, I just happened to have a little bit left in me when I saw Kristina.

It was now 3:37 into the race and I had 3.2 miles left. I had resolved that I wasn’t going to make it under 4 hours. Maybe I could still beat 4:07 if I could run the whole way. However, that wasn’t going happen. The hiccups were become more profound and were now hitting while I was walking. It felt like my entire throat was burning. What has been a great race had gone horribly wrong.

I ended up walking almost the entirety of the next 3.2 miles. I was crushed. Somehow I managed to summon enough strength to ignore my overarching desire to vomit and run the last 200m to the finish line. After a 1:50:13 first half I finished the marathon in 4:20:16. Runkeeper worked okay, but because part of the beginning of the race is on the lower level of streets in Chicago, it lost GPS and said I ran about 28 miles. In reality I probably ran about 27 miles. Any way you slice it, it was a long day.

When I look back it I had three goals for the race:

  1. Run under a 3:45
  2. Run under a 4:00
  3. Not puke, not pee my pants, not poop my pants

Framed through that lens I suppose I didn’t do horrible. Heck, any day in which you don’t poop your pants counts as a good day, right?

2011 Chicago Marathon Official Splits

2011 Chicago Marathon Official Splits

Completely Exhausted at the End of the Marathon

Completely Exhausted at the End of the Marathon

After the race I decided that I should finally look up what causes these hiccups. It turns out that it could be a lot of different things. It could be related to a mild case of ulcerative colitis (it’s okay, insert a poop joke here). However, I haven’t tracked when that’s been giving me problems around the time of marathons. It could be something related to the mixture of the Gatorade Endurance Formula used in marathons. It might just take a while longer for it to hit me. It could be related to me drinking on the run. It’s all very hard to say. Clearly this is something that I should work on debugging more in future runs.

Despite all the bad stuff that happened in the race, I was still able to crack open a smile at the end of the race. It was a wonderfully well organized race, especially given the size. Quite simply it was the most well managed race I have run in. Despite the crowds, it seemed like you should easily be able to PR on the course. However, that was not in the cards for me. Now it’s time to try and figure out what has made me hiccup so badly during four of my seven marathons.

Me and My Wife at the End of the 2011 Chicago Marathon

Me and My Wife at the End of the 2011 Chicago Marathon


Keep Running.

16
Oct
11

Race Report: 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Part 2)

In Part 1 of my writeup I covered a little bit of getting to Chicago and the Marathon expo. This section covers getting to the marathon and the first 16 or so miles before everything went terribly, terribly wrong.

I woke up about a rather restless night, quickly donned my clothes and made my way to the El for the ride to the Jackson stop on the blue line. I always try to arrive well in advance of the starting time for a race as the lines of porta-potties can be atrocious. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was “Hey, it’s still dark out!”. The second thing I noticed was that you can’t see inside of a porta-potty when it is dark outside.

The marathon started and finished in Grant Park, across from Lake Michigan. This had the nice advantage of allowing me to see something that I had only seen once in the six years I lived in Chicago, sunrise over the lake. It’s a beautiful sight.

Sunrise over Lake Michigan before the start of the Chicago Marathon

Sunrise over Lake Michigan before the start of the Chicago Marathon

Gear check was some of the best that I’ve ever seen at a race. Very well organized system with stalls for each grouping of numbers and enough attendants so there wasn’t a huge line to check your gear (or pick it up after the race). I also felt confident that if it were raining on the day of the marathon my gear would stay dry. Fortunately, the forecast didn’t call for any rain, but it did call for temperatures in the high-70’s or lower 80’s by the end of the race.

By virtue of me running a pretty face half marathon for the Brooklyn Half in May 2011, I scored a spot in seeded corral. I felt like a total poseur being up that far. I knew I was undertrained for this race. I was relieved when I looked around and saw that contrary to the people I saw headed for corral A, most of the people in corral C looked really similar to me. Of course, most of them had probably trained better than me too.

I'm Ready to Go at the Start of the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

I'm Ready to Go at the Start of the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

I’m pretty certain that Chicago has one of the most beautiful starts to any marathon. Yes, Big Sur is beautiful, but the start is kinda in the woods away from the jagged shoreline. Twin Cities and it’s fall colors are beautiful, but you start next to the Metrodome. If you’re like me, when you run NYC you start looking into the lower level of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and hope that people on top don’t pee on you. You start Chicago looking at some of the beautiful skyscrapers that Chicago is known for. From my experiences, there is no comparison.

The Chicago Marathon Starting Line -- Look at those Beautiful Buildings

The Chicago Marathon Starting Line -- Look at those Beautiful Buildings

The course for Chicago begins by heading north from Grant Park into the River North area, back south into the loop, and then up toward Addison. It’s a real treat to run right through the loop as that other US based mega race member of the World Marathon Majors thinks it’s more important to run through the Bronx than down Broadway. I was keeping a pretty constant pace throughout this part of the race even though I wasn’t running with a pace team. My goal was to do 8:30-8:40 miles, which was true for the most part, although there were a few times that I dipped well into the 7’s. None the less I was feeling good

The fan support on the course was really great — no doubt augmented by the CTA running extra trains to transport marathon fans around. My wife managed to see me downtown twice and tried to see me up by Addison but must have missed me. There were also some great bands and sideshows to see — such as the Lady Gaga impersonators from FrontRunners (can I digress and say how awesome FrontRunners is? They’re a great club for running better always are a hugely positive influence regardless of whether you’re a member or not.). Aid and medical stations were simply amazing. They were huge with ample amounts of water and gatorade and probably half the doctors from the Chicagoland area. I was trying to be all manly and drink on the run. This probably was not a great idea.

By mile 11 you’re thundering back into downtown and across the Chicago River a few more times and out to UIC and the United Center. This is clearly the section of the course where the organizers said “Crap, this thing needs to be 26.2 miles, lets throw and out and back somewhere!” Rather than adding something interesting to the course such as a extending it down to Hyde Park, they have us run by the empty parking lots of the United Center. There were sections where the course was completely quiet. No fans. No support in those areas. No runners talking. It was also at one of the most difficult parts of the race, the first half of the second half of the race (around mile 15).

I finally managed to see my wife around mile 16, right by the UIC-Halsted stop on the Blue Line. I wasn’t even looking for her there because we hadn’t planned on meeting there, but I wasn’t complaining. She was a very welcome face to see at that point of the race. I was so excited that apparently I did Jazz hands, that’s something that Ali on the Run would do. I know nothing about dance.

Mile 16 and Going Strong! Wait, am I Doing Jazz Hands?

Mile 16 and Going Strong! Wait, am I Doing Jazz Hands?

Unfortunately, this was kinda the high point of the race. Stuff basically fell off a cliff after this point. A very sharp, very depressing cliff. But I’ll talk about that part 3 of my Chicago Marathon race report.

16
Oct
11

Race Report: 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Part 1)

It was the best of races,
It was the worst of races,
It was a day of wisdom,
It was a day of foolishness,
It was the marathon of belief,
It was the marathon of incredulity

I don’t think that I’ve had a more bipolar race than the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. How could things go so wonderful and later go so horrible? All within a span of about 45 minutes. With that in mind, this writeup will be two parts. In part 1, which is this part, I’ll cover the events pre-race such as the expo, part 2 covers everything up to about mile 16 of the race. Part 3 covers what happened that caused it to go terribly wrong and what I’m going to do about it.

First, this was my second attempt at running Chicago. Last year, 2010, I registered for the race and partially trained for it before giving up because of my hip injury. That utter failure taught me a valuable lesson, seek medical help earlier rather than later. This year when registration rolled around I was determined not to miss the race again. The timing was near perfect, I’d have 16 solid weeks of training since running Grandma’s Marathon in June. Unfortunately, a miserable August combined with travel (as detailed in my litany of excuses) meant that I was didn’t think was going to tear this up. Nonetheless, I had a plane ticket. My wife had a plane ticket. We had paid for a hotel room. I was going to run this race.

Now, before I get too far, let me say I’m very biased in favor of Chicago. I spent six wonderful years living on the south side of Chicago and I still think it’s one of the greatest cities on earth. Yes, I like it more than New York. So, in the following numerous upcoming locations where I describe how the Chicago Marathon is better than the New York City Marathon, please keep in mind that I’m biased. Also, remember the #1 scent of New York is urine. Okay, enough potty humor until part 2 of writeup.

Getting to the expo was a breeze. Hopped on the El down to the Roosevelt stop and wandered over to a well signed bus stop. A helpful volunteer told us we had 10 minutes until the next bus. This resulted in the second time in my life that I’ve ever walked inside of a Starbucks. I don’t drink coffee, but we did get a muffin. Back outside on the patio of Starbucks the volunteer chatted with various runners about the course and then a greyhound bus approached to shuttle us to McCormick place, which, just a stupidly as the Javitz Center in New York, lacks an real public transit. Fortunately, Chicago provides shuttle bus service rather than making you walk from the nearest train station the day before the race. Points for Chicago! Yay!

Me at the entrance to the Chicago Marathon Expo

Me at the entrance to the Chicago Marathon Expo

Arrived in McCormick Place and quickly found 45 booths handing out bibs. This actually made it really quick. Then the down side, you had to wander through the expo to get your T-Shirt, which was on the other side. Ughh. I love the idea of a marathon expo, but I’m a pretty crappy consumer. Heck, even products I like an support, like Injinji Toe Socks, I’ll look at during the expo and then buy online later. Yeah, I’m a bad marathoner. I missed many of the other interesting things in the expo. Apparently they had a wall with everyone’s name printed on it. I didn’t find my name — mostly because I didn’t know this wall existed until I read a writeup mentioning the wall from another marathoner.

What I thought was kinda interesting about the marathon expo is that there was one booth specifically protesting Bank of America. This wasn’t part of the Occupy Wall Street movements. Instead it was from the Rainforest Action Network and was distributing protest materials about Bank of America’s financial support for a very dirty and deadly coal fired plant on the marathon route. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall on Thursday morning when the expo opened and the title sponsor of the marathon saw the booth.

Rest of the day was non-eventful. Planned on going to Maggiano’s with my wife and a friend from college, but the wait was atrocious. Checked out a nice little Irish pub across the street where I was able to stock up on pasta and a little bit of beer the night before the race. Hopped on the El back out to our hotel and I was in bed by 10pm. Of course, I never sleep well the night before a marathon.

Next up, part 2: the first 16 miles.

23
Jun
11

Race Report: 2011 Grandma’s Marathon (Part 2: The Race)

Back in February I signed up for my two primary marathons this year, Chicago and New York. I was in Minnesota when a friend, KL, mentioned she was going to run Grandma’s Marathon. Being the attention hog that I am I asked if I could go for the stroll along the North Shore with her, and she was cool about it. We agreed to run the race together and set our goal time to be 4 hours even. At the end of April we had a great time running the Get In Gear Half Marathon together but realized that our goal time might have been a bit too aggressive and backed off to 4:10 for a goal time. If you’re keeping score at home and read my post on the Brooklyn Half Marathon you’ll realize that in theory I can probably run something faster. Therefore, the goal of this race wasn’t to run as fast as I can and crash, but to enjoy the scenery, pace KL as long as I could keep up with her, and run a good race.

As usual the night before a race was brutal when it came to sleeping. Although the folks at the Holiday Inn were good enough to basically shut down all public areas at 9pm the night before. Sadly, the silence of the hotel didn’t go into my mind which was running on all sorts of things from worries about the weather to trying to figure out new graph traversal algorithms for my real job. I figure I probably got about five or six hours of solid sleep. Not the best, but certainly better than before Big Sur last year or the Brooklyn Half just a few weeks ago. At 4:45 my alarm went off and did my usual pre-race cleansing ritual, which is to say nothing. No face wash, no deodorant, no shaving. This ensures that I’m extra delicious at the finish of the race. The only change was that I liberally applied body glide — it was raining outside and I figured even if I used a whole stick it would be worth it. It would suck if 600 miles of training were for naught because of chafing.

Hypothermia risk banner at Grandma's Marathon

Yup, a Hypothermia Risk in a June Marathon.

KL met me in the hotel around 5:20am for our bus to the starting line which left promptly at 5:30am. Normally city buses make me want to hurl, but oddly when they’re moving along at 55 miles per hour they’re quite nice. I was surprised to see that we were amongst the first runners to arrive at the starting line. Unlike New York, being first to the starting line means only an hour early, rather than four or five hours early. Fortunately, by the time we arrived most of the rain had stopped and porta potties were plentiful. The race flag was green indicating great conditions for a race — well it was green. After about 20 minutes the flag was changed to white. That’s right, a race on June 18th was run under a white flag indicating the risk of hypothermia.

Ready to Go Before Grandma's Marathon! Look at that Awesome Stubble!

Around 7:10am we made our way toward the sweat check, which was now surrounded by a slow moving mob of people. Luckily, this being Northern Minnesota it was the nicest mob you’ve ever met. When I accidentally walked past the drop for my bib number a guy walking by helpfully pointed out the fact. No complaints there, although it was a little strange dropping my sweats into a trash can to check them. By the time we dropped our sweats the starting mob was taking shape, unfortunately, this meant we were back near the walkers and needed to sneak our way up between the 4:00 and 4:15 pace teams. Here’s where things became a little interesting. Just like my experiences at the Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10M and the Valentine’s Day 5k there was once again no real notice of the starting gun. Maybe I’m just braindead when I do events in Minnesota, but it did remind me of how spoiled I am by the New York Road Runners’ consistently high quality events.

6500 Runners Ready to Go!

We set off at a moderate pace that put us between our two target pace groups. I was surprised by the number of fans early in the race, especially the wonderful fans around mile five in Knife River. I was expecting that the race would be much more like Big Sur, which was essentially barren for the first twenty miles. This was not the case, there was never a point that we were far removed from fans and we saw many fans several times during the race (huge props to the cheerleader chick in the Bemidji State sweatshirt who had amazing energy the four times I saw her along the course).

Somewhere around mile seven we both realized that nature was calling us. Unfortunately, the race was VERY short on restrooms. Luckily, we spied a couple with a very short line between mile nine and ten. This ended up costing us about two minutes, and perhaps more critically meant that we were on our own for pace as the 4:00 pace team was now out of sight. Oh well, at least I didn’t vomit from the stench of the restrooms like I did in New York.

If there was a bonus from losing the pace team it’s that I bumped into an older runner who introduced himself as John. John made the usual small talk asking me what other races I had done. I asked him and he told me that he had run all 35 Grandma’s Marathons and all 29 Twin Cities Marathons, and more than 150 in total. It turns out that John is one of three people who has completed every Grandma’s Marathon and the only one of the three who has also completed every Twin Cities Marathon. This is really remarkable and a huge inspiration. I felt pretty honored to have randomly bumped into him a couple of times during the race.

Somewhere around Mile 16 - We Both Still had Energy to Wave

We maintained a nice solid pace for the next eight or nine miles. The road followed the North Shore of Lake Superior, darting in and out of the woods, in front of homes, and by some small businesses. As we got closer to Duluth the fans became more dense and we started to see the most excellent bootleg rest stations. Lesson learned: Twizzlers are a bad idea. Not only are they more wax than anything else, but they shard in your throat and make it a pain to run while eating them.

Somewhere Around Mile 19 - I'm Holding a GU Packet That I Never Used

Around mile 15 or 16 we spotted my wife for the first time. She’s training for her first long triathlon and we had packed her road bike in the back of the car. As we continued along the path she rode ahead to meet us — well, most of the time. We actually beat her between two points which caused me to bellow “We’re beating you!” and got a few laughs from the crowd and other runners. I think this also made it apparent to many of the very tired runners around me that I still had way too much energy left relative to other runners.

Between mile 21 and 22 the 4:15 pace group was catching up to us. When KL and I discussed our pace we agreed that we’d go for a 4:14:36, as that would ensure a PR for me. At this point KL was still making good progress, but I think my energy was starting to annoy her and she told me to go away. I feel a little like an ass for abandoning my running partner, but I don’t think I could handle it if I didn’t manage below a 4:14 when I know I’m capable of it.

I was able to crank off the last four or five miles at a much faster pace than the runners around me. Somewhere around 8 minute miles. I had some fantasies about finishing under 4 hours, but I knew this wasn’t going to happen when I saw the gun clock hit 4:00 as I passed it at mile 25.

Look at Me Berating the Crowd for not Having Enough Energy at the Finish Line

The last mile of the marathon was incredibly painful. This wasn’t because I was tired, to the contrary I was feeling really good, but because the road twisted and turned as it made its way through Canal Park. Around each turn I thought we’d find the finish, but it never seemed to appear. Finally, the crowds grew and I knew I was near the finish. An arch of balloons popped into my view. Finish.

The crowd was much more dense than I expected as I approached the finish. But sadly, they didn’t seem all that excited. I was able to summon some energy in the final sprint to raise my hands and berate the crowd for not cheering. I apologize if I offended anyone, but come on, finishing a marathon is a big deal. Your cheering makes us go faster. Please cheer us on instead of staring into your smart phones. I was able to thunder through the finish line, go get my bags and meet my wonderful wife.

Pace and Elevation For Grandma's Marathon - The Spike Around Mile 17 is a Glitch

While waiting in line for my gear, which seemed like the slowest and coldest line in the history of man, I was able to check my mile splits. For the first time I was happy. I hadn’t realized it before, but up until this race I had never actually run a whole marathon. There’s a few anomalies in my splits — where we stopped to go to the bathroom and some weird stuff around mile 17, but over all we maintained a fairly steady pace and once I left KL I was able to really turn on the jets and finish strong.

Splits for Grandma's Marathon

By far the worst part of the marathon came at the end. This wasn’t because I was dead tired, but more because I get cold at the end of a marathon, and it was already a cold day. To make matters worse the spot to meet family was up on the berm that separated the finish area in Canal Park from Lake Superior. The wind coming off the lake was absolutely frigid. We quickly found a nice person to get a picture of me and my wife and then I donned my sweats, got my free ice cream and beer, and high tailed it back to the hotel. I knew I had PR’d and for the first time I had run an entire marathon.

Me and my Wife After the Marathon. It was FRIGIDLY COLD.

When the official results were available I was very pleased, a 4:07:43. Considering we stopped for 2:50 to use the restroom, I’m very happy with this result and can tell myself I did a 4:05ish. Also, I aid the day before that I wanted to finish around 4:10. KL, who I left behind around mile 22 also managed to run the entire way and rolled through around 4:16. Both of us were under the median time for the finishers and above a 50% for our age gender times (me 50%, KL 52%). Considering how bad NYC and Twin Cities were in 2009, you’ll hear no complaints here.

Official Time: 4:07:43 - a New PR

This is the first time that I’ve actually felt good after a marathon. Normally I go through these weird emotional roller coasters at the end. Not so this time. It probably helps that KL was next to me until mile 22 to keep me from going crazy. After a shower back at the hotel and an hour long nap I was good to go. My legs were a little sore, but in general I felt fine. Stairs didn’t hurt. I felt like I could run another marathon the next day. Instead, I’m resting this week and mentally prepping myself for Chicago. It’s going to be awesome.

Keep running.

Bib and Medal from Grandma's Marathon - Memoirs of a Great Race

23
Jun
11

Race Report: 2011 Grandma’s Marathon (Part 1: The Course)

I have a lot to say about Grandma’s Marathon, so this is broken into two parts. In part 1 I cover my perception of the course, expo, and other elements that shouldn’t change much from year to year. In part 2 I describe my performance in the marathon.


As a native Minnesotan I’ve taken some pride in the fact that my state is home to two of biggest and best marathons in the United States – the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon (8197 finishers in 2010) and Grandma’s Marathon (5611 finishers in 2010). Clearly these numbers aren’t anywhere close to the experience of running Chicago or New York, but when you consider the size of Minnesota, and especially the size of Duluth, it’s pretty remarkable. What’s more remarkable is that this was the 35th running of Grandma’s Marathon. Going in I figured it was a safe bet that they had running this event down to a science, for the most part they do.

First stop after a drive up I-35 plagued with road construction was the expo. I have to be honest, I didn’t expect much from the expo, but was very surprised. The first thing that hit me, the ENORMOUS cavern used for the pasta dinner. Walking past this hit the actual expo which was phenomenal for the size race. Lots of local events and stores along with a smattering of national events too. If you forgot anything for the marathon you could certainly get it there at pretty reasonable prices. Although, as seems to be the norm, the deals for the women seemed to be much better than the deals for men. Picking up marathon swag bag was breeze too. No complaints about the expo at all.

Transportation to the starting line and back from the finish line was provided by Grandma’s Marathon. Starting line transportation is a necessity as the race starts in the parking lot of the Ford dealer outside of Two Harbors. For most people running the full marathon transportation was provided from their hotels by city buses. I was dreading this at first, I had flashbacks to slow-moving buses in the dark on the way to Big Sur and I also often get nauseated on city buses. Surprisingly, cruising down a straight road at 55 miles per hour with no stops makes a city bus pretty nice transportation. However, starting in 2009 they added a unique form of transportation. About 650 runners each year can take the train from the DECC to the stating line. The train is slower than buses, but it’s got some ambiance to it that a city bus just doesn’t. Sadly, taking the train requires you to arrive at the DECC really early. There was a bus stop at my hotel, so I just took that. This allowed me to see that by the time the train arrived most buses had already arrived. The prime locations to wait were occupied and the bathroom lines were quite long. For those who weren’t staying in downtown Duluth the marathon also provided transportation back after completion — it’s one of those really nice things that they didn’t have to do but certainly reflected the whole Minnesota Nice of Duluth.

The actual course is pretty straightforward. For the most part it is a jaunt down Old Highway 61 from Two Harbors, MN to Duluth, MN, ending at the original namesake sponsor, Grandma’s Restaurant. Over the course of the 26.2 miles the course loses about 130 feet. There are a few hills, enough to keep it interesting, but none are really substantial. Lemon Drop Hill, around mile 22 inside the city limits of Duluth is probably the biggest challenge, but it’s pretty short and comparable to going over the Queensboro bridge in NYC, the Birmingham Bridge in Pittsburgh, or some of the smaller hills at the end of Big Sur.

Grandma's Marathon Course Map and Elevation

Aside from a small U-turn at the end Grandma's Marathon is a straight point-to-point course

After about 18 miles of scenic running down old Highway 61 the course finally enters Duluth, first in a pleasant residential area. This was a great spot to run because of all of the families and drunk UMD students cheering the runners on and offering beer (if it had been mile 25 I would have taken some). While it wasn’t Manhattan or Park Slope in terms of fan density, it was certainly a huge motivating factor. The locals really do seem to love the event. After about three miles in residential neighborhoods you hit Lemon Drop Hill which takes you into downtown Duluth. Some of the bars had really great cheering sections set up — although whatever bar had the fenced off area serving booze needs to use some cattle prods to liven up those fans.

Downtown Duluth was interesting to run through. Good support throughout the run, but the brick roads and the condition of some of the bricks made things a little difficult. When wet the bricks can be a little slippery and man of the bricks had broken corners which required you watch where your feet fell. At mile 25 the race hangs a left, goes over I-35 and heads toward the DECC and the finish line.

The last mile was the absolute worst part of the race. Not so much because it was the last mile, more because it follows a curvy road around Canal Park. If you don’t know where the race ends you think that it’s going to end at the next curve at least four or five times. You really have no idea. After what seems like a 3 mile run for the last mile the race finishes with excellent support and thousands of fans right by Grandma’s Restaurant in Canal Park. It’s great to know that even though Grandma’s isn’t the primary sponsor of the race anymore, they still get the name and the race still ends there — a wonderful touch of history and respect for a great marathon.

This isn’t to say that everything was awesome about the weekend. Duluth has a population of about 86,000 people. With 6400 people running the marathon and 6000 people running the half marathon, this was a strained city. Putting things in another perspective, if we kept the ratio of runners to citizens constant then the New York Road Runners would need to handle 640,000 people in the New York City Marathon. Even New York would have problems with traffic and hotel rooms if that many people were in a single event. Indeed, it seems as though every hotel within 20-30 miles of Duluth was booked full well in advance. Most hotels were charging the rack rate and required a 2-3 night stay, making this a very expensive marathon. The savvy pros realize you can get a room a UMD or UW Superior for significantly cheaper. Something to consider for next time.

There were two other downsides surrounding logistics. The first was restrooms during the course. Although there were plenty of portapotties at the start during the race there were very few. Every couple of miles we stumbled upon a pair of portapotties — often with a very long line. Most men took advantage of the wooded course and left the portapotties for the ladies in the race. Adding even an additional portapotty at each cluster could REALLY help out. The other issue was at the end of the race, getting checked bags was a bit of an ordeal, and being as it was very cold during the race, this forced runners to backtrack to get food after waiting in line to get their sweats back. Not a huge problem, but given the 48°F high on race day, this was really cold.

Is there a chance I’ll do Grandma’s again? Absolutely. It’s a great race with wonderful scenery that is masterfully run with great fans and great support. Except this time I’ll make sure to book my room and transportation early.

Keep running.




Recent Tweets

  • @ThisRunningLife We do a lot more than that. You've probably interacted with Watson before and never known it. But yeah, the celebs are fun. 1 year ago
  • I'm seriously tempted to sign up for a North Face Endurance 50 Miler. I've never done more than a marathon. I might be crazy. 2 years ago
  • @ChiMarathon Pilsen. Great music. Free beer and churros for the runners. A huge crowd. Hugs all around. What's not to love?! 2 years ago

Marathon Times

2011 NYC Marathon3:57:45
2011 Hartford Marathon3:58:17
2011 Chicago Marathon4:20:16
2011 Grandma's Marathon4:07:43
2010 Big Sur International Marathon4:22:49
2009 NYC Marathon4:37:05
2009 Twin Cities Marathon4:43:28
2009 Pittsburgh Marathon4:14:38
2008 Erie Marathon5:11:40

Upcoming Races

  • Nov 6 - New York City Marathon, New York, NY
For previous races, check out my Race Log