The day before the Chicago marathon, Kaela and I were sitting on Mike’s couch browsing through the “Race Guide” they hand out to all participants. It has some information about the race but its mostly an opportunity for sponsors and other races to spread their messages. It must have worked pretty well on me because when I noticed that registration for Grandma’s Marathon started just a week after Chicago, I already had it placed on the calendar!
Race: Grandma’s Marathon
Location: Duluth, MN
Date: June 17, 2017
Finishing Time: 4:47:04
As I have said in previous race reports, Kaela and I really like finding Saturday races as it helps with the driving to races, and Grandma’s Marathon fit that request. I had previously looked into running this race for Minnesota but it really just worked out with being the right time of year and in the right mind set to register for it. Heading into the week of the race, my body was worn out. After a brutal marathon in Nashville, I went on to run a great race (and get a PR) for the Playin’ Possum 50k in Delaware, OH just a few weeks later. Since the time of that 50k, I took my training runs with a little ease trying not to break myself down any further than I already had. I felt strong enough to complete the race but I knew it was not going to be easy pushing through heavy legs.
Thursday evening, we left our house and headed on our way. We had a hotel waiting for us in Madison, WI, as a half way point. The drive wasn’t bad for the first 4-5 hours and then all of a sudden I started to get really tired. It took all I had to keep my eyes open driving on the dark empty highways around Chicago and then into what seemed like complete darkness as we went across Northern Illinois. Kaela, exhausted as she was, kept a conversation with me to make sure we didn’t drift off the road. We finally made in to Madison around 12:30am local (8.5 hour drive). Checked into hotel, cleaned up for bed and passed out!
The next morning I didn’t set an alarm but was going to let my body get as much sleep as it needed, which apparently was only 5 hours. I got up and went for a nice easy 2.5 mile run, which I finished up with some quick sprints to get ready for my carbs. I prepped and ate breakfast while Kaela had the hotel breakfast, before getting back in the car to make our way to Duluth (4 hour drive). As usual, Kaela made the drive the day before the race to keep my legs as loose as they can be while sitting in a car. The drive from Madison to Duluth was quiet with not much to really see along the journey. While I do like having scenery, it was nice to just have a conversation about literally anything that came in our heads. There is something so great about radio off and just sitting having a conversation while on a road trip with Kaela <3.
As we approached Duluth the traffic started to build up a little bit. There is really only two roads to get into Duluth and at a certain point the become the same road. We eventually came up to the expo area and had to play the fun game of trying to find parking. Each parking lot for the DECC (expo) had lines backing up for as far as we could see. We circled the streets of the downtown area for parking before deciding to try the other side of town.
I was getting quite frustrated trying to find parking, as roads were being prepped for the 5k happening that evening, so we were having to drive in circles to move anywhere. We came to a point where I noticed a parking spot but in my frustration I just mumbled incoherent words to Kaela that in my head were trying to display that I saw a spot. When I looked at the confused look on her face, I apologized for my tone and promised next time I would actually use my words, which gave us both a nice laugh and helped lighten up my mood.
We eventually find a parking lot and made our way down to grab lunch at Canal Park Brewing Company, just down the street from the expo. I ordered a chicken quesadilla, thinking it would be a safe bet as simple food, but didn’t read menu very well and it had a salsa on it with quite a kick. I only ate half of it because I thought it was better to not have to poop my pants middle of race the next day. Kaela enjoyed a beer as we relaxed in the warm sun just off the water. Similar to Nashville, the weather for the race was going to be warm so I just used sitting outside to get used to it while I pounded water as fast as the server could bring it.
After our late lunch, we headed into the expo to grab my items. For as large of a race as it was, the expo really surprised me with how “small” it felt. I can compare it to Birmingham or St. Louis, with the feel a small college basketball arena. I needed to pick up some Gu’s and also an additional stick of body glide for the race. The last few races, Kaela has been holding body glide in case I need to reapply during race. Since Grandmas was a point to point with some waiting at the start, I wanted to have an additional so I could apply just before the race and she would also still have some. We grabbed my bib and made our way to the car, then heading out of Duluth to our hotel.
Now when I was planning this race, I had a hard time finding pet-friendly hotels. There were only a handful of pet friendly options and all of them were over $300/night. I started looking a little further out to see what I could find. There was a much more affordable resort that was just over an hour from Duluth that allowed pets, so that is where we ended up. Leaving the expo we took the 80 minute drive to our place for the night. We turned off my highway down a country road, before turning down a literal gravel/dirt road. I started to worry if this place was going to be a smart decision. Shortly after we saw the large resort and felt much better about the situation.
As I was checking in, the lady working said:
“So in the notes it shows that you were bringing a pet.”
“Yes ma’am we have our small dog”
“Well the hotel portion of our resort does not allow pets…”
At this point I started to freak out a little bit inside since we just drove 80 minutes in the middle of nowhere to arrive here. She continued to tell me that Hotels.com has the information wrong but they would allow us to stay but “next time” we wouldn’t be able. I thought to myself that there was no reason for me ever to come back here but thanked her for her understanding and that we wouldn’t have any issues with Bella in the room.
We got settled into our room and took a little walk around the grounds. It must have been a slow season because there was nothing going on, but looked like a very pretty place to spend a weekend away. Back in the room we warmed up my pasta (we made before we left home) and Kaela had some leftovers from lunch. Started to prep race day items and make sure everything was laid out that was needed. The race was similar to Big Sur, in that it was point to point and I had to get to the start much earlier than usually would. So because of this, I packed a start bag that would have my breakfast, body glide, pills, etc so I could still time out everything as usual.
Cleaned up and ready (mostly ready) I set my alarm on my iPad and phone and went to bed.
*Stop this train, I want to get off and go home again…*
The smooth sound of my John Mayer alarm waking me up at 2:50am. I felt like I got a good amount of sleep for being up so early. I headed to the bathroom to get some warm water on my face to jolt some energy in me before…well…you know…taking care of business. When I got out of bathroom I had a small snack and was getting final things adjusted when Kaela rolled over and asked why I got up so early. I told her it was 3:15 and as the words rolled off my tongue I knew I was mistaken.
See the problem was my iPad never connected to internet, which means it did not know that we were in a different time zone. So what I thought was 3:15 was really only 2:15! Once I came to that realization I laid my happy ass back in bed for another 45 minutes until the real time I was to get up.
Got up, got dressed, packed car, and we were on our way. Earlier I stated this race was like Big Sur and having to get up earlier to make it to the start. There are two options to get to the start of the race, either by shuttle bus or by a historic train. I opted for the train because of a few reasons; I knew I would have more leg room, they had restrooms on the train to use, and when else am I going to say I took an old train up the coast of Lake Superior to run a marathon? Opting for the train, however, did mean I had to be at the pickup around 5:15am. We made the little over an hour trek in pitch black darkness back up to Duluth from our place. We found some parking and walked toward the train pickup near the Finish line. Gave Kaela and Bella a kiss and boarded the train.
I noticed the first few train cars were pretty packed but decided to press my luck and keep going back to hope for some openings. I ended up in the very last car which was easily from the 50’s with velvet suede seats and had just a little bounce left in them. I grabbed a window seat that would give me a few of the lake, put my headphones in and just sat back and relaxed.
As we started towards the start, and older gentleman sat next to me and we began to have a little conversation. Talking race stories, goals, and really just a little about everything. We talked about race conditions and what to expect for the day. The weather seemed to be cool enough in the morning, but the forecast called for some warmer temps in the morning which could be followed by some rain. I kept on my nutrition plan making sure I was plenty hydrated before I started. After a lovely 80 minute train ride up the coast, we had arrived at the Starting area. We still had about 45 minutes until the race start, so I hung out on the train to give my legs a break and also to wait to use the restroom in our car. I must have waited just a little too long to get up because the bathroom line was about 8 people deep. I decided to just make my way out and possibly use one in another car. It seemed everyone had that idea because they all were packed.
Instead of just sitting and waiting on the train, I made my way out to the starting area, where I noticed the sea of runners waiting to relieve themselves at the amazing blue prisms. At the same time I noticed a nice wooded area that seemed just as easy to use, so that’s what I did. The starting line was set up just outside a Ford dealership so I found a truck and dropped the tailgate to use it as a shelf for my stuff. I stretched, changed my shirt, applied body glide, and repacked up my gear bag. When they announced that just 10 minutes until the start, I made my way to drop off my bag and head into the corrals. I found it pretty easy to get up into a comfortable spot in the corrals between the 4:15 and 4:30 pace groups.
I started to block everyone out, get in my zone and mentally prepare myself for the task at hand. A quick prayer of strength and thanks and it was time to go.
**insert starting horn**
We started the journey of 22 miles of running down the same road, Scenic Route 61. The start was a little crowded due to large number of participants and no wave start and everyone wanted to stay towards the middle of the street for reasons unknown to me. I stayed along the right edge line of road and was able to have a little bit of elbow room. The first few miles I settled into my pace trying to make sure I would not go out to fast. A busy calendar of races the months leading up to race had torn down my legs and I knew that I needed to run smart today to have a good race. We reached the first aid station at mile 3. Aid stations were every two miles after that first one, which was close enough for me to decide not to carry my handheld. The “scenic route” we were on was differently all it was hyped up to be. It was quiet and tranquil, even with the sound of thousands of feet hitting against the pavement, I felt at peace and was really enjoying myself.
Because the road was completely closed for runners, spectators were at a minimum along the first part of the course. That being said, almost every resident that lived on the road was out at the end of their driveway giving cheers and words of encouragement. Some where dressed in costumes with funny signs, while others just gave the occasional “way to go” from their lawn chairs. Regardless of what they were doing, it was a great lift to see them out.
Around mile 6, we had our first opportunity to view Lake Superior up close. Well, we should have at least. A dense fog rolled in making visibility limited. The fog felt nice and cool but that did make me realize that we were going to have some warm air in our future. The temps at the start were comfortable and the forecast called for it to be a little warmer towards the end, with the possibility of some rain at the end. My goals was to make it to the finish before that rain had a chance to get to me.
Every race has a few funny memorable moments and one of them happened just after the 10k mark. I was drafting behind a larger group when I approached two young ladies chatting. Out of no where one of them lets out a huge burp, which caused me to instantly break out the Kool-Aid man “OOOHHHH YEEAAAHHHH”. She then realized how loud it was and we all had a good laugh.
The miles kept clicking off and before I knew it I was at mile 9, the first place (and only) place that I saw Kaela on the course. She snapped a few pictures, grabbed my GoPro, and wished me good luck for rest of race. It’s always comforting to see her during races to help lift my spirits and keep me pushing forward. Right around the time that I saw her the temps started to rise and the air became sticky. I made sure that with every aid station I was getting both sports drink and water to keep ahead of my hydration.
Shortly thereafter, the sun started to peak out which caused everyone to head to the left side of the road that was tree lined to get some shade. It was a good idea until I realized that we were making a long banking right turn and that we were just adding distance by staying at the top. 26.2 miles is long enough, no need to add any more distance. I took a straight line to the right hand edge to have a better angle on the turn.
In the process I met a guy from Colorado that was thinking the same thing I was about tackling the tangent line of the course. We chatted for a little bit, talking race stories and a little bit of life. He had run multiple marathons and a few trail ultras as well. As we approached the aid station at mile 11, we wished each other good luck as we were separated by the runners not aware of how to grab water without just stopping in the middle of the road (that is a rant for another day).
As we approached the half way point in the race, I really started to feel the heat. Winding down the scenic route we passed multiple people that set up water hoses spraying to keep us cool. Even though the heat was coming, I still felt strong in my legs but backed off a hair knowing that still a lot of race left. One of the ways that I did this was walking up to and through the aid stations starting at mile 15. I would make my way to the edge just before, start a brisk walk, grab water/gatorade, drink, then continue on my way.
The next few miles is where the suck really started to kick in. By mile 19 my legs were starting to cramp but more over my stomach was acting up again. Sharp pains and a little bit of nausea were starting to set in. It was frustrating as it’s been the same story the last few races with my stomach. I spent most of the 20th mile walking trying to dig deep for the rest of the race, which ended up being my slowest mile split of the day.
Also at mile 19 is when we made our way back into neighborhoods. This was great encouragement seeing people on both sides of the road with signs, playing music, and lying to all the runners saying they looked great (we know the truth but we do appreciate it). There were a few groups of people that stood out to me and made me chuckle a little bit which helped the pain I was in. First, we passed by a college aged party taking place and noticed a few guys were participating in “40 hands”. If you are not familiar, it’s where you duck tape a 40oz alcoholic beverage to each of your hands and are not able to remove until you have completed both. Yes, this is a dumb idea but that wasn’t the funny part. I saw a guy playing 4o hands going back and forth in banter with a young lady, and as I ran passed I yelled “LESS TALKY, MORE DRINKY”. The look on his face was priceless as he tried to comprehend what just happened.
A mile or so later, I ran by a guy that had a sign saying that he was offering up some Fireball liquor. Best part about it all is he had the song “Fireball” by Pitbull playing, on what I can only assume on repeat as people kindly declined the offer. The most encouraging person for me on the course was the guy I’m calling the “lemonade guy”. There is one real “hill” on the course and it’s an overpass around mile 22 to take you back towards downtown Duluth. Set up just before there was a guy with his family with a table of water, gatorade, pretzels and (as you would guess) lemonade. Whether this was something that was going to help my stomach or not, I grabbed a cup and the guy gave me some praise and motivation to keep pushing through because I’ve gone this way so why hold my head down now. I thanked for my drink and made my way up and over the overpass.
At this point, we no longer had the shade of tree lined roads, but rather just in the open sun as it beat down on us. On both sides of the streets were business that had their associates and some other spectators cheering us on. Funny enough I ran back into the burping girl from early and even funnier is that I did because I heard the burp again and once again cheered it on.
After a few turns we approached downtown Duluth. From our trip there the day before I recognized the area and knew that there was not much more left (even though the mileage should have told me that as well, but you know math while running = bad idea). The crowds were amazing through here. Taller buildings on both sides of the roads helped trap the noise and excitement happening between causing the sound to amplify. In the middle of downtown, I caught up to the guy from Colorado and he was in just as bad shape as me. We power walked for a moment and then I wished him luck as I pulled away. With less than 2 miles left, I dug deep and would run as long as I could and then when I had to walk, I did that as fast as I could.
Made turn on 5th Ave heading back towards the finish, knowing that there were just a few turns left in the race. There was a steep overpass that I saw two guys struggling and pushing through also. I gave them a little motivation and told them for us all to stick together to the finish. We made around the corner next to the DECC and lost one guy. After a few turns that I could have sworn each was the last, I ended up falling out and telling the last guy to finish strong. It seems that each turn that came up another was around the corner.
Just when I started to think I was going crazy thinking I misjudged where the finish line was it came into sight. I pushed with anything I still had left in the tank. I noticed Kaela on the left hand side cheering me through the last few hundred meters. Kept a smile on my face as I dealt with cramped quad as I crossed the finish line.
I “stumbled” through the finishers area, getting some fluids and snacks. While walking, the sun went between the clouds and it started to rain a little. I started to get a little bit of the chills trying to make my way to Kaela, when I noticed a chicken noodle soup station. Two cups later and I was feeling a lot better! The rain let up and I found Kaela just outside the finishers area. We sat along the waters edge while I ate some food trying to get calories in. We decided that we should try to hit the road as we had a long drive.
So we walked back the 1.5 miles to the parking lot that Kaela had initially parked that morning. Kaela had backed into the spot so gave me the option to change right behind the car so we didn’t have to find a restroom. Instead of heading back the way that we came, we decided to head towards Milwaukee for dinner. It seemed the bad weather followed us the entire way, so we didn’t have many options but found a local place to dinner then headed to Mikes in Chicago for the night.
What a trip! The Grandmas Marathon was everything it was built up to be and much more. From the train ride to the start, running along with the Lake to the side, and the crowd support heading into Duluth, it was definitely a great race. I wish the weather would have been a little better and also that I had race a better race but that one is on me. We spent a lot of time on the road but it was a great long weekend getaway with Kaela.
A few month break until my next race taking place across the Atlantic. But since this is all about states completed you’ll hear from me after the NYC marathon in November!