I always make it a point to sign up for a fall marathon as motivation to train throughout the summer. For the last 4 years that marathon has been a local marathon named Frankenthon. Knowing I was going to run the NYC marathon the first weekend in November, I decided to run a fall race that was a few weeks earlier. My first choice was to run St. George, which is a notoriously fast course in Utah. However, the running gods were not on my side and I failed to gain entry through the lottery. Fortunately, several other Shipmates had a similar result so someone suggested The Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis/St. Paul and I eagerly agreed.
TCM is dubbed the “most beautiful urban marathon” in the US, and it did not disappoint. Besides being generally flat to downhill, the TCM is routed around several of the area lakes and many miles of the Mississippi River. October meant leaves that were beginning to change their colors and fortunately for us, cool race day temps (mid-40s).
It is a given that runners will struggle when training through an Austin summer. Usually that didn’t bother me as my time expectations were pretty low for the Frankenthon. However, I was traveling and spending money – not to mention leaving my wife home with the kids all weekend – so I had high expectations for this one. The only problem was I had no proof that I could train at a slower pace in the heat and have that translate to a good time in cooler temperatures. I just had to trust the training, a concept much easier said than done.
Race morning was about as perfect as anyone could have hoped. Temps were in the mid-40s with a light breeze. It had rained the previous day and there was some in the forecast, but it was supposed to hold off until noon. I walked from the hotel to the Metrodome around 7:15 am for the 8:00 am start. Having a place to sit indoors was a nice luxury and I took advantage of it. I chatted it up a bit with a gentleman from St. Cloud who had run the race before and confirmed that there isn’t much to be concerned about on the course. The elevation profile looks a little scary at the end due to an uphill that runs from miles 20-23. However, my new friend told me it is more rolling that a steep uphill and is much fairer than it looks on paper.
About 20 minutes before the start I made my way to the start. I ran into Jerie and Michelle and we chatted and took pictures before I got my game face on and took a spot smack dab in the middle of the 3:05 and 3:15 pace groups. I looked for Robyn near the 3:15 pacer but couldn’t find her. A few minutes later the gun sounded and we were off.
I usually try to run the first few miles at a slower than goal pace to get warmed up. I ran comfortable and tried to enjoy the atmosphere of the race. This was my first marathon in almost 6 months and I felt like I needed to re-aclimate. The course took us by the Basilica in Minneapolis, which had its bell’s ringing welcoming us as we cruised by. The course took a turn and we began to leave the urban part of the course and enter the lakes and parkways of the area. Beautiful homes lined the course and the crowds began to fill in more and more.
The course began some gentle rollers and I started focusing on my pace a bit more. Around miles 6 – 7, I began chatting with a runner who coincidently said she and her husband were moving down to Austin next year. I told her to look up The Ship of Fools when she arrived for some good running and great friendships – she promised to do so. She asked what my goal was and I simply said, “to PR.” She asked if I knew what the end of the course looked like and I told her I did, but that these hills weren’t supposed to be too bad, right? After a few more minutes I cranked up my music and left her behind.
Around mile 10 I saw a familiar figure ahead of me. Is that Robyn? Wasn’t she supposed to be running with the 3:15 group? I double checked my watch to make sure I was running the correct pace (I was) and slowly began catching up to her, which took about another mile. “Where is your pace group?” I said. She clearly wasn’t happy and indicated she is not feeling great at all. I asked if she needed anything from me before moving along.
At this point I noticed how great the crowds were at this race. There were very few “dead spots.” Even better, apparently several folks ventured over from my home state (Wisconsin) and were sporting the beautiful Green and Gold of my beloved Packers. I must have said “Go Pack” 100 times during the race (note to self: you need a Packer tech shirt to wear to races from now on).
During my previous PR race in Austin (Feb 2013) I remember never feeling “comfortable,” a feeling that was coming back to me now. At least during Austin I had my friend Colin leading the 3:10 pace group to pull me through the last few miles. This time I was on my own. The 3 mile hill at mile 20 was looming ahead and although I was nailing some pretty good paces, I wasn’t sure if I could hang on.
We made a right turn and crossed the Mississippi into St. Paul. We crossed the 20 mile mark and the hill started. My legs were tired but surprisingly they still had a little spring to them. I tried to keep as steady a pace as possible, figuring that if I could make it to mile 23 I could use the downhill to assist me to the finish. The hill was just as advertised – really more rollers that anything too steep. I began passing folks and tried to use the crowds to keep me going. Before long I passed the 23rd mile marker and I knew I was close to PR pace, but I don’t have the brains to actually calculate my pace based on the total elapsed time and knew my Garmin distance, and thus pace, was off slightly off. It would be a race to the finish.
The last 2 miles or so are typical for me in a marathon. I talk to my self, sing along with the music, close my eyes to summon inner strength and hold back tears. It is like a lifetime of emotion in 15 minutes. No longer feeling strong, I look for the “statue” landmark that Jerie showed to me the previous night at dinner, indicating it is all downhill from here. Alas I find it – Holy Cow! Seemingly a few hundred feet below is the Capitol building and the finish line. Weeeeeeee, here we go. I let gravity take me and away I went. I looked at my watch and knew it would be close. I passed a few more folks during that last 400 meters, crossed the finish line and stopped my Garmin. 3:08:03! New PR!
As we arranged the previous night, I shuffled over to the massage tent and was pleasantly surprised when I was immediately ushered to a mat on the floor. I’m guess they gave old guys expedited service! After 7 minutes of various rubs and stretches I was off to meet the rest of The Ship. Robyn, Michelle and Jerie all went through the same routine and before long we were on the bus back to Minneapolis.
The best part about marathoning with friends is the post-race celebration. In addition to Shipmates, my college friend Samantha who lives in Minneapolis joined us as well. This one began with a “Lucy” (burger stuffed with ham and cheese and topped with a fried egg) and a couple local brews. Oh yea, and a Packers game that ended with the good guys winning. We visited an Irish bar called “The Local” and tried out 3 Gingers Irish whiskey (good!). Another bar and a few more whiskeys later and the crew was exhausted. I cabbed back to the hotel exhausted and happy! What a great day!
I would highly recommend the Twin Cities Marathon to anyone looking for a fall race. It was well organized, pretty, and reasonably priced. The course is extremely fair and with a little help from Mother Nature can be a PR course.