I feel like the title of this post is misleading because, in case you don’t follow me on Facebook, this was my first full marathon DNF. That stands for Did Not Finish. Le sigh.
Let’s back up though.
I went into this marathon with lots of training hiccups and an injury. And due to when I began running and base building I really didn’t hit any high mileage weeks. I went into this marathon with the least amount of mileage since my first two marathons. None of this is anyone’s fault. Coach Jon didn’t want to up my mileage too fast and because I seem to currently be “injury prone” I agree with him. Basically this training cycle was a hodge podge of random issues. Up until two weeks ago I didn’t even know if I’d head to Minnesota at all.
In any event, I made the decision to go and shoot for a goal to PR. If I failed, I’d fail spectacularly. Hindsight being 20/20, I realize this wasn’t the smartest move but I was relying on my strength and experience as a distance runner. This would be my eighth marathon so I felt confident I could finish.
The S.O. and I arrived in Duluth, MN, on Thursday. We headed to our “hotel.” The dorm rooms at the University of Wisconsin Superior.
The dorms were a way more affordable option since the hotels in the area jack up the prices for Grandma’s weekend. They were clean and comfortable. I’d recommend this route to anyone heading there for the marathon.
The city of Duluth, while not a booming metropolis, does offer a lot of great dining options, this place in particular, and everyone was very welcoming and friendly.
Our friend Meghan arrived later on Thursday and I picked her up from the airport in our rental car. She was also staying in the dorms and had trained her butt off to shoot for a BQ (Boston Qualifier). We grabbed dinner and decided to head to the expo the following morning.
After we ate breakfast and grabbed our packets we headed back to the dorms for a little nap. We wanted to stay off of our feet. Meghan’s parents arrived in town that evening so she hung out with them while the S.O. and I went to a movie and then the spaghetti dinner that Grandma’s Marathon hosted at the convention center. It was perfect. The meal was offered all day so you could go eat at any time on Friday. Plus, $12.99 for a full meal with no hassle was fantastic.
The weather leading up to race morning (Saturday) had been all over the place, with the exception of the thing that never changed: rain and humidity. Yuck. Fortunately, the temps kept dropping and it looked like it would at least be cool for most of the day.
Saturday morning the S.O., Meghan, and I met in the dorm “lobby” and grabbed the shuttle to the start line at 5:45 AM. Grandma’s Marathon is a true point-to-point marathon so shuttle is the only way to get to the start. I tried to relax and visualize my plan. Meghan is a wonderful person to race with because she is so positive. She is a joy to be around. She and the S.O. kept things light and fun on the ride to the start. We got a great little tour of more of Duluth and it really is a very pretty town with lush green lawns and beautiful hilly vistas.
Immediately stepping off the bus, it smelled like Christmas. Those pine trees smelled amazing. Then it began sprinkling. This was fine. In fact, it was great. It was cool and breezy. For about five minutes. Then the skies opened up and runners tried to find any cover possible. There was none. We stood in the rain for a while and then realized others were cramming into the back of the gear trucks. Some people were even sitting underneath the trucks! It was sad and hilarious.
|Crazy runner selfie.|
As we stood there freezing I began contemplating even running. We were all soaked. Meghan was all in and ready to rock. I questioned my training and my sanity. Was this worth it? Was I going to chafe and blister all to hell? Why would I do this? At the final moment, I said fuck it. I’m going to at least start the damn thing. I’m an ironman. I can do this.
Meghan and I said goodbye to the S.O. and headed into the corral with not much time to spare. She had to run on the outside of the soft fence to get up to her designated pacing area, she was shooting for a sub-3:35. I just pushed my way through the crowd and lined up with the 3:45 pace group. Yes, I was going to attempt a PR.
I stood with soaking wet and cold runners and was a bit warmer due to our body heat but we all shivered as we waited to start. As we finally got going, I felt good. I was hitting the pace of 8:35 without problem. I stayed ahead of the 3:45 pace group for the first five miles. There were rolling hills but they were nice because they were gentle and as soon as you got up them you got the great benefit of the downhill.
I started slowing down at about mile eight and my legs began to ache. I got to mile nine and knew 3:45 was definitely a long shot. The 3:45 pace group passed me and I slowed to a 9:15. I picked it back up for a bit and ran an 8:21 mile but that really hurt and I slowed again. It was about mile ten and a half that I decided to bail at the half marathon point. I knew I could gut out another 13.1 miles but I knew it was going to hurt and there was no doubt going to be a lot of walking.
I walked through an aid station and almost kept walking until I recognized the guys from a recent Runner’s World article. They have run every single Grandma’s and were dressed in Steve Prefontaine era Oregon track outfits, replete with handlebar mustaches. They were very nice to chat with and they lifted my spirits. I considered staying with them for the whole marathon. But then I thought about the pain. And the possibility of really hurting myself. Again, was this worth it? Did I really want to walk/jog another 13.1 miles? Ultimately, I decided no. At that time, I didn’t feel it was worth it.
I stopped at the bail out check point and said, “Hello, I’m here to quit.”
After telling medical I was fine, I just knew my limits, I got onto a minivan that would take me almost to the finish line. I was joined by two other “quitters” and we discussed our various reasons for stopping. One man from Houston had tendinitis and had to stop. It was his first marathon. Ugh. The other man stopped for similar reasons to mine. We commiserated and it was nice to have them with me. We were almost to the finish and traffic was crawling. The marathon is on the main highway so getting to the finish line meant back roads. For everyone.
We were transported to another bus that did finally get us near the finish line. We would have to walk the rest of the way (about a 1/4 mile). I said goodbye to my compatriots and began the cold shuffle to get my gear bag. The worst part of a large marathon is the logistics in getting to your gear bag and back to your hotel. It seemed to take forever and I stupidly didn’t check any post marathon clothing and I was freezing. Fortunately, some military volunteers took pity on me and gave me another space blanket and a golf cart ride a bit closer to the finish line.
I got my gear and saw finishers coming into the corral and wearing their medals and the pang of the DNF began. I called the S.O. and told him to meet me at the dorms since we were in two totally different spots of the finish area. As it turned out, he ran the whole damn thing. We started with opposite plans, he was going to bail at the half and I was going to run the full. But, as luck would have it, I bailed and he finished. He said he just kept seeing how much longer he could go and at a certain point he figured, why not? I can’t say I blame him. Under different circumstances, I would have done the same thing.
On the bus to the dorms, I sent Meghan a text to see how she did and didn’t get a reply so I checked Facebook to see if anyone posted her time. And guess what? She ran a 3:32! She’s going to Boston! I couldn’t be happier for her.
We got to the dorms and showered and warmed up. We both needed to nap and after eating some snacks and napping we headed out for dinner. I overdid it on the meal and ate my feelings. After dinner we grabbed some mini booze bottles and probably broke some campus rules by drinking in the community TV room at the dorm. Ha! We met four other runners with the exact same idea and chatted about our days over our drinks and snacks. It was a really nice way to end the day.
The S.O. and I had several hours before our flight left on Sunday so we had breakfast and explored Duluth a bit more. There’s a cute little downtown and again, everyone was so, so nice.
|Trying to decide where a moose chair would work best in our home.|
We got home late last night and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my DNF decision. I spoke to Coach Jon while I was at the Duluth airport and he noted that I didn’t sound like I was having fun recently. And he’s absolutely right. He said he never cares about his athletes times. He just wants them to race their best and feel their best. I suppose if I were to go back and do this all over, I’d have gutted out the last half of the marathon. I know there’s many, many good reasons for me to have chosen the route I did. But, I also know that finishing would have felt good mentally.
On the plus side, I can walk today. I took the stairs up to my office. I can begin training lightly again much sooner. I can regroup and start having fun again. In times like this I think about what my dad told me about decision making. You make the best decision you can at the time and you can’t dwell on it once it’s done. I made my decision to DNF and now it’s time to move on.
I’ve got a lot of fun races lined up for the fall and I think I’ll sneak in a sprint tri here this summer. Thanks for reading and for the support. And for the record, I’d absolutely recommend Grandma’s Marathon. The course was beautiful and they pull out all the stops for the runners. The quaint town of Duluth was welcoming and friendly. Plus, in Minnesota, if you order a bloody mary, they give you a sidecar of beer. That’s so worth the trip.