Posts Tagged ‘Grandmas’

The best laid plans of mice and marathoners…

Often go awry

There’s your one sentence summary of my race at Grandma’s and perhaps a reminder to all of us that not matter how much you prepare there will always be factors outside your control, and you have to learn to accept it.

SusanOnrocks

Deep eh? Well you have a lot of time to think when you are running 26.2 miles. Although some of those thoughts are not suitable to reprint here Winking smile. If you want a race report that tells you what to expect if you run Grandma’s check out my more official race report here. This post is a more personal tale of my 2016 race at Grandma’s to share with friends, family and fellow runners, and also a chance to me to look back at the race.

Today is Monday. Two days ago I ran Grandma’s marathon in Duluth Minnesota. A cool little town on the shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.That’s a picture of me admiring the lake on Friday, the day before the race. My goal was to finish a solid sub 3:50. That would mean a personal best, and it would also give me 5 minutes under my Boston qualifying time. Since the marathon was in June I had completed a long training plan, and I was running well. I had set a PR on a 5km, and a 10 mile race. I was running well on the track. I completed three 20 mile runs during my training. Physically and mentally I was ready.

The race I didn’t run

My alternate race was Ottawa race weekend, which turned out to be a rough weekend for a marathon. There were heat advisories in effect, not a good weekend to try and PR, race officials were asking runners to slow down and take care of themselves during the race. I ran the half marathon that weekend, and was thinking to myself how frustrated you would be if the Ottawa marathon was your goal race. (If I correctly recall my high school English, in literary terms that last sentence would be called foreshadowing)

Getting to Duluth

I landed at MSP (Sorry, I travel a lot so I refer to airports by their codes, MSP is Minneapolis) on time and met Karin (who would be running the half) by the gate. Christopher (Karin’s husband who would be running the full) was late so we passed the time until he landed, meeting a few other racers along the way, then picked up our rental and made our way to Duluth about two and a half hour drive. Along the way we checked the weather forecast for race day, chance of thunderstorm at 7 AM starting temperature of 16 degrees 26 by peak of day.  Hmmm not ideal, we could get a storm waiting for the race to start, but that could easily miss us.  A little warm, hopefully that will change!

Settling in

I was fortunate that Christopher and Karin went to college in Duluth and have run Grandma’s before. I couldn’t ask for better tour guides. Christopher sorted out the rental car, booked our accomodations and even sorted out our dinner reservations Friday night.

We stayed at the university of Minnesota Duluth residence.  I wasn’t too sure how I felt about sleeping in a door room with no AC, and shared showers and bathrooms down the hall. but it was actually a pretty great set up! I had an entire room to myself, it was quiet, everyone around was runners. I never had a wait for the shower, and there were some unexpected perks.

First of all there was a hospitality suite at the residence, which had junk food, pop, water, bananas, apples, oranges, bagels, jam, peanut butter, a toaster, course maps, postcards, even drawings by local schools kids welcoming us to the race!  I loved that!WP_20160617_14_44_09_Pro

There were also lounge areas, so Christoper, Karin and I were able to settle in with a laptop, bluetooth speaker and our junk food to psych ourselves up by watching Spirit of the Marathon. It’s possible our allergies may have kicked in from time to time. That movie sums up all the emotions, all the ups and downs of running marathons, and I love watching it the week before a race. (at the Chicago marathon do they have a small orchestra playing that theme music at the start?)

The day before the race

We went to the race expo early hoping to beat the crowds. Loved the truck with the names of all the runners printed on the side!

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Picked up our bibs and wandered around the expo picking up samples of chocolate milk, and looking for any must have t-shirts with clever running jokes. I almost picked up the “I run for wine” t-shirt. But finally settled on a fridge magnet, hat, pin, and a couple of laptop stickers. My laptop sticker says 26.2 Grandma’s marathon and I picked up one for Trevor that says 0.0 Grandma’s marathon Trevor still doesn’t understand this strange urge my family has to race Smile, but luckily he is still supportive of this shared insanity and is a tireless supported and spectator!

Christopher really enjoys meeting the celebrity runners in the race expo. We were practically stalking Shalayne Flanagan in Boston, and at Grandma’s it was Dick Beardsley who would likely be issuing the restraining order. He was speaking at 4 PM, so we figured we could come back then to talk to him after his presentation. As we were walking around the expo they announced “Dick Beardsley is inthe building at the North End of the expo”. Of course expo race PA systems are terrible so that was all we caught and we spent the next 20 minutes hunting through the expo, outside the expo, asking the info desk trying to figure out where he was. Just as we gave up they made another announcement. This time we listend carefully and caught the booth name “Essentia Health”. We went to what we thought was their booth, but no sign of Dick. But when we asked they pointed us down another hallway and there he was! We had walked past him 3 or 4 times and hand’t even noticed. It was so low key that hardly anyone had seen him! That worked out great because there were only two runners in front of us waiting to talk to him. He took his time and chatted with each runner and also dashed out to hug and chat some familiar faces walking by. When we finally reached him we had a good 3-5 minute chat, he signed our bibs and Christopher got a picture. All I can say after meeting him is Wow, what a great ambassador he is for the sport! He held the course record at Grandmas for 33 years! 2:09:37!

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Christopher had a PR on this course 3 years ago and warned me that the finish was a little misleading. 25 miles of the course is straight, but the last 1.2 miles winds through side streets and just as you see and hear the finish they turn you away down some road and loop you around a building then finally back to the finish. So we walked that last mile so I would know what to expect race day. We did find the 26 mile marker which made a great photo op! It was a gorgeous day, nice breeze, high of about 24 degrees or so, not too humid. Would have been a great race day! (there’s that foreshadowing again…)

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Food was cheap and easy to find. French toast at Perkins for breakfast Friday. Sandwiches for lunch at Erbert and Gerbert (handy to have friends who know the town). An early supper at Va Bene, a wonderful little Italian place overlooking the water that was completely ready for the rush of runners looking to carbo load.

By 8 PM we were well fed, rested and back at the dorm.  I checked the weather forecast one last time: chance of thunderstorms at 5 AM and 11 AM (hey that’s better we wont’ get soaked waiting at the start), starting temperature of 16 degrees and about 24 degrees by noon. Not cool, but manageable. I laid out all my race gear, set my alarm for 4:45 AM and was soon fast asleep.

Race day

My alarm woke me up, and I stumbled out of bed, slowly started to get into race mode. Body glide, compression sleeves, take a bite of my banana, have a sip of water, turn on my GPS to get a signal and so on.

Karin left earlier to catch the shuttle for the half marathon start which is at 6:15 AM. The marathon doesn’t start until 7:45.  Yeah I know the half starts before the full, weird eh? That’s because the half marathon runners start half way down the marathon course so they want the half marathon runners  off the course before the elite marathoners come through.

Christopher and I met at 5:30 and made our way to catch the shuttle. We were on the first bus, and soon we were trundling along, trying to distract ourselves so we wouldn’t think about how every mile covered by that bus we would soon be doing on foot!

A statue of Paul Bunyan marks the turnoff for the start. They dropped us off and we trundled down the road to the start area and foudn another photo op. Yup those are my the same stylish pre-race PJs I wore in Philly! I keep thinking they work because I can throw them out, but I keep throwing them in with the bag check, so there they are again! You can also just make out my fine work writing my name on my tank top with electrical tape. Apologies to my K2J folks, that tank top is my best hot weather tank top and I chose function over K2J fashion for this race.

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It was neat being amont the first buses and seeing such an empty start area. Is this what it is like for people in the first wave at Boston?

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We laid out our garbage bags on the grass and settled in. We put on our sunscreen, and generally took it easy. It wasn’t long before there were 15-30 minute waits for all those port-a-potties as you can see in the background. (See I did bring K2J gear to the race! Had to make sure I had at least one good K2J Photo op!)

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We did the mandatory last trip to the port-a-potty line and made our way to the stop. The temperature warning flag was green (low risk). We were good to go!

20160618_062029I had a mild panic when I got to the bag check because there was only one bin left for my bib number range and it was already overflowing. No sooner did I stuff my bag in they started to roll it away and bags were falling out.

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But no time to worry about that, time to find the 3:45 start point. No corrals here, just signs to indicate suggested starting points in the corral. For some reason all the pace bunnies were way down bythe front of the main start (they have a sub 2;25 start and then the everyone else start). In the end I had to fight my way down to the 3:45 bunny. I found at later that Christopher was at the 4:00 mark confused looking for his pacer along with many other runners, they didn’t know their pacer was at the front with mine.  This was my only real complaint with the race, whether that decision was made by the CliffBar pace team or the race we may never know but if you were trying to PR and planned to follow a pacer that could have thrown off your entire race…it also caused a lot of clogging near the start.

The announcer started gave us the 5 minute warning. “It’s a gorgeous 72 degrees out there right now, great day for a run”. I don’t speak Farenheit so I took his word for it (turns out that is apparently 22 in Canadian)

The race started, we slowly moved towards the start line. My GPS of course decided to go into power save mode, so I had to to restart finding my locataion again,but it was ready before I crossed the start. Let the race begin! I had my pace wrist band, my pace bunny, my belt wth gels and two water bottles I was ready!

1 km 5:20 pace – perfect exactly on track for 3:45

2 km 5:07 pace – well not surprising very crowded tough to keep up with the pace bunny

3 km 5:11, 4 km 5:06 – glad I brought water with me, first water stop isn’t until 3 miles

5 km 5:14 and the first water stop, the flag is now yellow (moderate heat risk) . ottawa race weekend I ran a half marathon with red flags, I can handle this. I dump water on my head.

6 km 5:20, 7 km 5:12, 8 km 5:14 – the pace bunny is going a little faster than I would like, but I’m okay, starting to get to know the other runners in the 3;45 pace group, still pretty crowded.

9 km 5:22, 10 km 5:14 – the first mat! I am about 90 seconds ahead of my goal time here, anyone tracking me online is thinking ‘ okay great Susan didn’t go out too fast in the first part of the race, sticking to her plan’

11 km 5:15, 12 km 5:26, 13 km 5:16 – wow there are way more hills on this course than I expected, this is not flat. Okay they aren’t really steep hills, but there do seem to be a lot of them

14 km 5:28 15 km 5:27 – you know given this race is along the water there isn’t much breeze, these darn trees are blocking the breeze from the water! Oh wait there’s an open bit, yeah that breeze can we have more of that?

16 km 5:29 17 km 5:43 – Why am I doing this. Marathons are stupid. I should just run half marathons. Yeah I am never running another marathon I mean seriously this sucks

18 km 5:34 – You know what Mr Pace bunny, you can go ahead, I’m okay back here.

19 km 5:40 – wait a second that’s a red flag (high risk) at the water station, maybe that’s why this seems so hard. Another runner comments that dunping water over her head has caused water to drip down her legs into her shoes.  Doh! Why did she have to say that, I hadn’t noticed my socks and shoes are completely soaked.

20 km 5:34, 21 km 5:46 – hey red balloons that means walk the water stops, dump ice in the sports bra, and take a sponge. These water stations are awesome! they have ice and sponges at every single stop. Oh look a timing mat, only a couple of minutes off my goal pace… bwahaha anyone tracking me online will still think I might have a personal best little do they know…

22 km 6:07, 23 km 5:46 – just get to the next yellow balloon (mile marker) then walk, just get to the next balloon then you can walk. I wonder if the 4:00 bunny will pass me and if so will Christopher be with him, if so good for Christopher.

24 km 6:11, 25 km 6:01 – okay big curve, cut the corner, why is no-one else cutting this corner it will save a good 100+ meters… oh wait they are all staying on the side of the road with shade. Didn’t think of that

26 km 5:34 – downhill yay! Oh look I can see the lift bridge at the finish line in the distance. Christopher warned me about that. Still got 16 km to go, that sucks.WP_20160617_10_09_34_Pro

27 km 5:57, 28 km 5:49, 29 km 6:43 – uhhh wait a second that was a black flag at the water station (extreme risk) are they going to close the course with me still out here?

30 km 6:35, 31 km 6:01 – then again if they close the course I could stop. Look there goes the 4:00 pace bunny, bye bye pace bunny.

32 km 6:18, 33 km 6:18 – what was that loud bang!?! Oh that is the blue balloon mile markers for the half marathon exploding in the heat. Oh look a timing mat, anyone tracking me online is going to look at this mat and say ‘whoa something went wrong on that stretch’

34 km 6:50, 35 km 6:03 – hey look, someone else from the 3:45 pace group – Hello Michelle shall we run walk this together? A volunteer hands me water and says “Go Susan you look great” I smile, pat her on the arm and say “ You lie so well”

36 km 8:23 – foot about to cramp, calf about to cramp, F**% thank you Michelle for walking with me, okay we can run again, no wait now Michelle has a cramp. Hey look orange slices and strawberries.

37 km 6:40, 38 km 7:24 – run walk run walk run walk, well slow jog walk really, hey look there is the restaurant we ate at last night. Look another pace band on the side of the road someone ripped off in disgust, tried to rip mine off but too much effort.

39 km 5:44 – wow awesome crowds on this stretch yelling “Go Susan” “Go Susan’s friend” thank you! So glad I put the tape on my shirt

40 km 6:34 – one last water station! Great crowds lots of cheering.

41 km 6:34 – Michelle says she is slowing me down (the idea that anyone could slow me down at this point is highly entertaining) and sends me on my way. I wonder if can get through the last mile without stopping… Hey look there is the one mile photo op, would it be rude to flip him the bird, cuz that’s pretty much all I want to do right now. Wouldn’t that be a great race photo?

42 km – S*(%#@ there is a hill here, that’s just cruel, use the arms, use the arms use the arms. There’s the 26 mile spot where we took our picture .2 miles to go, come on, use the arms, use the crowd, just keep moving, there’s the finish, oh f$@*& my calf is about to cramp up I am 100 meters from the finish line don’t let me collapse with a calf cramp now! Don’t let me be that runner who collapses and crawls across the finish line or has other runners helping them limp across

42.2 5:49 for that last km by the way – the finish line, once again I am sorely tempted to use my middle finger for my finish photo. The words going through my head in this photo are not suitable for younger viewers

WTF

It’s over! Thank god it’s over. That sucked. I don’t care what my time was, it’s over! Thank you I will take that medal and my finisher shirt. Wow this medal weighs a ton. All around me finishers are looking at each other and simply saying, glad that’s over! I mention I need salt and I need it now, he hands me a leftover salt tablet. Thank you sir yo uare my hero! Michelle appears behind me we hug briefly, it’s over. I stumble to the gear check, they find my bag, I stumble to the chocolate milk station I find some chips, I find some shade.

Recovery zone

Karin finds me, I ask about Christopher, he’s still out there. I lie immobile trying to stretch what I can, drink what I can, eat what I can. I text Karin, Christopher has crossed the 25 mile marker. I stumble towards the finisher shirt pick up. I see Christopher, one shared look says it all ‘who cares about the time today, we finished!’ . We hug in mutual exhaustion and I take him to Karin. The three of us take a group finisher photo with our medals. Karin takes care of Christopher getting him chocolate milk, then water as he just stands there. We both just had our worst ever marathon finishing times, and neither of us cares at all. Today was all about finishing without ending up in the med tent!

We head to the change tents (great concept! ladies and mens change tents at the finish line so you can get out of your soggy nasty race gear!). I discover I still have a sponge stuck in the back of my running bra. Christopher walks out of the tent clutching a blue piece of paper he was given at the finish, his drink ticket. Instead of the finisher shirt he has changed into a red shirt that says “I didn’t run this far to drink fizzy yellow beer”. Clearly our next destination is pre-determined.

I don’t drink beer, but I can get a Coke with my ticket, but the coke is luke warn just put it into the cooler. I’ll take a Sprite. We collapse a bit. I sit, Christopher is afraid if he sits on the ground he will never get up again. Lunch is proposed, after considerable struggle I managed to get to my feet. As we walk along, we spot the race car with the names, hey cool the half marathon names are on the other side of the car we just never realized it! Photo op for Karin!

20160618_134240We find a nearby restaurant. We order food. We have a booth, look I can lie down on the bench, that feels good.

We finish lunch, we walk towards the shuttle buses, we cross the race course and OMG there are runners coming in! Have they been out there this whole time!!! Cheer, clap, cheer some more! You are amazing! Wow!! Seriously! they look pretty good for people who have been on the course for about 6 hours in this heat!

Apparently it peaked at 78 F which is *only* 26 C, but it was also 80 % humidity and there was not a cloud in the sky. So trust me when I say it was hot. There was a running group from Tampa Florida in our dormitories. They were complaining about the heat as much as we were.

So no personal best, no Boston Qualifying time, all that training and preparation, but Zeus (or whichever god controls the weather) was not feeling kindly towards the runners today. 9500 runners registered in the marathon. 7500 finished. We don’t know how many started.

It may be my worst marathon finishing time to date (4:07:42 if you are curious) but I will wear my Grandma’s marathon jacket with pride! Done and done Smile I never want to run another marathon again!

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But… my time from the Philly marathon in November is a theoretical BQ . With the Ottawa and Grandma’s races being so hot maybe less people will have qualified and my time may get me in to Boston 2017, a chance to earn another Boston jacket, and my running group, K2J, was discussing trying Boston Big Sur next year, so just maybe… Damn it! here we go again… so when does the next K2J clinic start?

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Last but certainly not least a huge thank you and big hugs to Christopher and Karin, who suggested this race in the first place! Hey Christopher it took what 5 years? but we finally ran a marathon together! Let’s not wait 5 years for the next one.

Grandma’s marathon–Is it worth the trip?

Grandma’s marathon is a big race in a small town. 9,500 people registered for the marathon and about the same for the half marathon (which sells out fast). If you haven’t heard of it, you may want to add it to your bucket list.

WP_20160617_14_43_40_ProWhen is it? Late spring

On a Saturday in early June – So the weather could be a perfect cold and misty, a hypothermic cold and raining, or an exhausting hot and humid.

Where is it? Duluth!

It’s in Duluth, Minnesota. Where is that? It turns out Duluth is on the shore of Lake Superior about a two and a half hour drive from Minneapolis. Minneapolis is a major airport, so if you live too far away to drive, there are lots of flight options. From Minneapolis airport, you can take a shuttle bus or rent a car to get to Duluth. If you stay in recomended race accomodations  with shuttles, you can manage in Duluth without a car. The biggest advantage to renting a car is the ability to stop at Tobies. Tobies is a bakery in Hinckley (about half way between Duluth and Minneapolis.) Tobies is known for it’s cinnamon rolls and pies. home made donuts, baked breads, rolls, cookies, and more! After all one of the perks of running a marathon, you probably aren’t counting calories, so this is a great place to load up on indulgences.

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One of the first things you will see in the distance when you arrive in Duluth is the lift bridge. The lift bridge is a remarkable feat of engineering. Duluth is a shiping port and you get some big ships. Instead of the typical draw bridge, they have a lfit bridge that literally lifts the entire span of the bridge to make room for ships coming into port.  This is the same bridge you’ve seen on Grandma’s marathon website, race medals, and race gear. You have arrived at your race destination! You will learn to love and hate this bridge. It’s a great landmark for the finish line, in fact it’s such a great landmark you can see if miles and miles and miles away. It taunts you on the race course looming in the distance.

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Where to stay? Reliving your college years in a dorm perhaps?

Like all big races, there are recommended race hotels. If you want to stay at a hotel that is close to the finish, you want to stay in Canal Park. Any hotel in the Canal Park area is close to the lift bridge, the finish and race expo. The race expo is in the DECC (Duluth Entertainment and Convention Centre). Canal park also has bars and restaurants so you don’t have to go far to find food. Like all big races, hotels will book fast and expect hotels to jack up their rates on race weekend, so you will pay for the convenience. There is no point in trying to get a hotel near the start line. There is no parking at the start, and there is no drop off at the start. Everyone must go to the start using shuttle services (more on that later).

Grandma’s offers an interesting alternative to expensive hotel rooms. You can book a room at the college dorm! There are two bedroom appartments with their own kitchenette, and the standard small dorm rooms with two single beds. We stayed at the University of Minnesota Duluth residencces. We were slow making our reservation so we weren’t able to book one of the two bedroom residence rooms with its own kitchen. Instead we got the more traditional university dorm room with two beds, two desks, and a dresser. Bathrroms and showers down the hall. There is no air conditioning, tu you can open the windows to cool down if needed. It was hot the weekend we were there (more on that later) but I was still able to get a good night sleep. I never had to wait for a shower, and there were a few great advantages to staying at the dorm. The price was reasonable ($100 USD a night), you could get a shuttle bus to and from the expo area (which was also near a number of restaurants), there is also a shuttle directly from the dorms to the race start. 20160616_22050720160616_220513

The nicest surprise was the hospitality suite! There was a big room with race course maps, postcards, brochures, and more important bagels, fruit, water, soda, even junk food. I particularly liked the drawings on the tables by some local kids welcoming the runners! We could have completely skipped our grocery store run for pre-race food! The smaller dorm rooms are a little small (though bigger than some of the hotel rooms I have spent $300+ a night during Boston marathon weekend). A couple can stay in one comfortably, but if you are bunking with a friend, you are definitely going to be stepping over each others smelly sneakers.  There are also a number of lounge areas where you can hang out if you want a little more space to hang with fellow runners. In theory no alcohol is allowed in the common areas. We found the lounges a great place to chill and watch Spirit of the Marathon to get psyched for race day.

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The race expo – free chocolate milk, I’ll take that thank you!

WP_20160617_09_58_53_ProWe drove down to the DECC in Canal Park where they host the race expo. We got there early so no problem parking. The parking lots were getting pretty full by lunchtime, so if you are going later you may want to take the shuttle instead. The first thing you see in the expo hall is the setup for the spaghetti lunch & dinner. What a great setup! You can have your pasta dinner anytime during the day. So if you prefer to carbo load at lunch instead of supper, or you want a 3 PM dinner you can just wander in with your ticket, and tuck in! This also makes it easier to dine with a large group, so great for running groups travelling together to the race.

I did find it odd that you have to walk through the entire race expo to get to bib pick up. This made the narrow pathways through the race expo a little crowded. But once we fought our way to race packet pick up they were quick and efficient. Men’s kit pick up and women’s kit pick up are split up. If you happen to register for the 5km & half marathon challenge, look for the challenge kit pick up separate from the 5 km and half marathon pick up desks.

The race expo itself, was decent. If you forgot nipple guards, gels, or body glide, you can pick up what you need. If you want free samples (chocolate milk, Old Dutch cheese curds, hot sauce, granola) you will find those too. The usual “I run for wine” or “In my dreams I run like a Kenyan” shirts, stickers, and glasses. There is an impressive selection of official race gear as well, and not as expensive as I expected. There are Grandmas marathon sweatshirts, hoodies, pint glasses, magnets, pins, stickers, posters, jackets, hats, etc… I picked up a magnet, a 26.2 laptop sticker, a 0.0 laptop sticker for my husband the spectator, and a hat. My race partner picked up a nice hoodie with the course map emblazoned on the sleeve.

Mandatory photo ops – where is Dick Beardsley?

Make sure you take your picture at the car with the name of every single runner (marathon on one side, half marathon on the other) printed on the side.

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When we were walking the last mile of the course, we found the 26 mile marker on the road, which made for a great shot since the finish line wasn’t set up yet when we walked by.

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There will be runners speaking at the race expo. *The* runner to meet at Grandma’s marathon in particular is Dick Beardsley. Beardsley is known for his 1982 Duel in the Sun battle at Boston against Salazar. Beardsley was born just up the road from Duluth in Minneapolis, his course record 2:09:37 at Grandma’s stood for 33 years! This is his race! He is a fantastic ambassador for the sport and if you do get to meet him, he will always find time to chat. This means the line up moves slowly, but when you do finally meet him you will be glad you made the effort. He is usually one of the speakers, but listen carefully to announcements at the race expo. We managed to catch up with Beardsley at a booth in the expo, but because the announcements were hard to hear, and the booth stop wasn’t posted anywhere, there were very few runners waiting to meet him, chatting with him was a treat!

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All runners need to pose at the lift bridge either before or after the race!

The start area – great shuttles, no shade

There is no parking at the start, and there is no drop-off at the start. All runners and spectators must use shuttles! Sounds scary, but the fact is the shuttles are very organized. So just look up the shuttle schedule, head down at the appointed time and hop on your bus. It won’t be long until you see a statue of Paul Bunyan watching over the start.

 

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One of the really cool options is a train to the start! We were very tempted to take the train. You have bathrooms on the train, you can stay on the train a little longer if it’s raining to stay dry. But the train only holds 1000 people and it only leaves once, so we were concerned we might not get a seat. We also read that one year the train arrived a little late to the start making it a rush for runners to drop off their gear at the bag check and get to the start. So we chose to play it safe and use the shuttle buses instead, which worked perfectly. We hopped on the first shuttle and had lots of time to settle in at the start. I have never seen so many port-a-potties with so few runners. This must be what it is like for runners in Wave 1 at Boston. 20160618_062236The start area filled up quickly and it wasn’t long until you had the usualy port-a-potty lines.  For the record the train arrived in plenty of time for the runners on the train to disembark, drop off gear and get to the start this year. WP_20160618_06_50_01_Pro

They had lots of water available in the start area as well, but there really wasn’t any shelter or shade so pack appropriately! We had a sunny day so we didn’t need our garage bags to stay dry, but they were handy to sit on the grass still wet from dew. In 2015 they got hit with a downpour and there were a lot of wet runners (one hid in a port-a-potty to stay dry and was very unpopular when he was discovered).

The start – Where is my pacer?

We made our last port-a-potty run and headed to gear check and the start. The gear check is a clever set up, self service. A bunch of labeled bins on wheels. Just toss your bag into one of the bins labelled with your range of bib numbers. We screwed up and waited too long to drop off our bags. By the time I reached it, there was only one bin left labeled for my bib number range and it was already overflowing! I jammed my bag in as best as I could, and it was waiting for me at the finish line. My bad for waiting too long to drop off my bag. Waiting too long also makes getting to gear check a challenge since it is in the start chute, so lesson learned don’t wait until the last minute.

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They don’t have corrals which is a shame given the size of the race, but they do post signs suggesting where to line up for different finish times and most runners were respectful of those signs. I walked up to the 3:45 and looked around for my pace bunny. The Cliff Bar pace team was at Grandma’s and I had seen the pace bunnies arrive, including my 3;45 bunny but there was no sign of the pacer.  Then I realized almost ALL the pacers were standing much closer to the start, somewhere around the 3:15 mark perhaps? I though perhaps they would move back down the corral to where we were gathered, but they didn’t. I had to fight my way up through the crowd to my 4:15 bunny. I was lucky, I was close enough to see the pacers. Runners at the 4:00 and 4:15 mark never realized their pacers were so far ahead. This is my only real complaint about Grandma’s marathon weekend. They organization really was fantastic, but that was a terrible place to put the pacers and it caused a lot of frustration and bunching near the start.  I don’t know if that decision was made by the Cliff Bar pace team or by the race organizers, but I will certainly share that feedback in the race survey. We even chatted to the pacers at the expo and they never mentioned they were going to meet runners there. So if you plan to follow a pacer, ask where they will be at the start!

The course – Not as flat as it looks

Don’t let the course map fool you, this race isn’t flat! It’s not hilly, but it’s not flat. It’s a continuous set of light rolling hills. It’s quite a good course to try and PB, because the rolling hills are probably easier on your legs overall. The only *big* hill is lemon drop hill, at mile 22, which is not as tough as most of the *big* hills I have encountered at other races. The course basically follows the road along the lake into town. It’s a shame that the trees block the view of the lake most of the course, but on the other hand those same trees provided much needed shade on my race day. Views of the lake are a mixed blessing, because as gorgeous as they are, they also tease you, it isn’t long before you can see the lift bridge in the distance even though you still have a solid two hours of running to get there! 

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I loved the mile markers, great big yellow balloons floating in the air for the marathon, blue balloons for the half marathon. Since all water stations are at mile markers this also made it easy to see the water stations well in advance so you could take your gels just before a water stop.

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The nastiest part of the course is actually the last mile and a half. I am so glad my training partner and I walked this the day before race day. The last mile is one of those twisting turning finishes, where you turn a corner and think hey I can see the finish and then you turn away from the finish to add a few hundred more meters. If you aren’t expecting it, you might kick a little early and regret it. After a race with almost no sharp turns along a sweeping highway for 25 miles, suddenly making 90 degree turns left and right and being sent through parking lots is a strange way to finish, but it’s the last mile, you are almost done, you’ll get through it and the last .2 miles is straight to the finish through throngs to help you forget your pain!

The water stops – All other races can learn from Grandmas!

I LOVED the water stops at Grandmas. They did a fantastic job! I was a little surprised the first water stop wasn’t until 3 miles out, after that they had stops every 2 miles. When you reach mile 19 you have a water stop every mile.

Here’s what I thought they did better than any other race I have run. Every water stop was on both sides of the road. They had lots of volunteers. Every water stop followed the same pattern: Water, Powerade, ice, sponge, water. Even when I was still running (it was hot for my race day so by mile 13 I was walking water stops) I was able to get everything I needed without really slowing down. Having ice and sponges at every stop was particularly important on our race day. The original forecast had called for a warm day, but it turned into a really hot day and the fact they had ice and sponges at every water stop probably kept a lot of us out of the med tent!  There were a couple of Cliff Gel stops on the way as well, but I carry my own gels so I don’t remember exactly where they were.  There were also two stops with orange slices and strawberries.A huge kudos to the race organizers for having such great water stations along the way. 

If you needed it, there were several aid stations en route as well, I saw more than one runner pop over to get some vaseline or help mid-race.

The spectators – What a finish!

If you have family and friends cheering you on, ask at the race expo about the spectator train. This was so cool! They have a train at the start line which spectators can ride back to the start! It will stop along the way so they can cheer the runners along the course! Such a cool concept!

The crowds will vary depending on the weather. If it’s pouring rain, don’t expect many crowds for the first 18 miles. Pockets of spectators will appear to cheer you on but mostly it’s just you and the other runners. I ran on a gorgeous sunny day (i.e. hot!) which was not great for my time, but resulted in a great turnout for spectators! There were certainly stretches where we just had the occasionaly family at the end of their driveway clapping as we went by, but there were other spots seemingly in the middle of nowhere with big crowds making lots of noise cheering us through.

It’s the last 6 miles that really rocks! Personally that’s where I need it most! Once you get into Duluth you will find more and more crowds cheering you on, once you hit the cobblestone streets it gets even louder. My best pace in the last 10 miles was on the cobblestones as the cheering carried me through.  Of course I had no qualms about using electrical tape to write my name on my shirt so people could cheer me by name. Even when I am tired, or walking, I still enjoy hearing that cry of ‘you can do it Susan’ or ‘Go Susan’ . They don’t put the names on your bibs, so if you need that extra oomph, find a way to help the crowd cheer you on(though electrical tape it appears can cause chafing according to my male running parner who had to remove his name from the front of his shirt at mile 24 and paid the price for all tha cheering in the shower post-race)

Race swag

It’s all about the t-shirt! and medal right? I happened to run this race on the 40th anniversary, so I got a great jacket, and the medal is some serious hardware! I am not sure the airline would allow it as carry on! There were also official Grandma’s marathon race socks in my race kit. One of the things I like about this race is you don’t get your t-shirt until you cross the finish line. They don’t give you a race shirt, they give you a finishers shirt. Since I am one of those superstitious runners who refuses to wear my race shirt until after the race anyway, this worked out great for me! However the one drawback is that they do sometimes run out of sizes by the time later finishers cross the line. In particular ladies XS seems to be a popular size. So if you see a shirt you realy like in the race expo, splurge.

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The finish area

Youv’e crossed the finish line, you can barely walk, you’ve got your medal, your shirt, and your thermal blanket, and most important your drink ticket (don’t lose that, and if you are one of those rare runners who like me doesn’t drink beer you can get a soda instead). You can pick up your bag from gear check (volunteers will read your bib number and go off to find it for you, so you don’t have to think). There are bagels, chocolate milk, water, potato chips (hooray for salt!), and all the usual goodies in the finish area. If you are waiting for someone else to finish, it is possible to leave the secure area and come back to meet them in the finish area as long as you still have your bib.

Another great aspect of the finish areas is the change tents. That’s right you don’t have to try and change your shorts inside the port-a-potty! Go ahead and pack a full change of clothes in your bag check and then head to the beer tent feeling a little less sweaty and smelly.

There is a beer tent with a band (tip: the line for drinks is shorter inside the tent than outside) and when you have recovered enough to need real food you can stumble aroound Canal Park until you find a restaurant with available seating. We only had to walk about 3-4 blocks to find a restaurant which could seat us immediately. After a late lunch we hobbled back to the DECC and found the shuttle bus which took us back to the dorms for a nap and a shower (in that order!) We came back to Canal park for supper to eat at Grandma’s restaurant and to take a picture by the lift bridge, a fitting ending for Grandma’s marathon.

To sum up! Because that was a long race report

Grandma’s is an extremely well organized race, a nice course, and nice atmosphere. If the weather co-operates you could definitely PR on this course, in fact it’s one of the top ten races for Boston qualifying times. Getting there was a little more expensive for me because I had to fly in, but the meals, souvenirs, and accomodations were cheaper than other big races I have done, so it worked out. It has the feel of a big marathon but it’s held in a small town which makes for a really nice atmosphere. Register early and book your accomodations early. Grandma’s is waiting for you!

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