Marathon #2 – the one where I qualified for Boston!
Obviously things went well in Minnesota, but I’ll start at the beginning. Back in March, Matt and I committed to the Twin Cities Marathon – the second marathon for each of us. We’ve been to Minneapolis a number of times and love the city, so it was an easy decision to choose “the most beautiful urban marathon in America.” I followed Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 training plan for the most part, but substituted his Tuesday workouts with the speed/strength workouts from the Hansons Marathon Method book. When I determined that my goal pace was 8:00 per mile, I realized that would set me up to run a 3:30 marathon. With a Boston-qualifying time of 3:40 for my age group, I knew that getting my BQ was a very realistic possibility, so I made it one of my top goals for the race.
The race took place on Sunday, October 4th, and Matt and I flew from Detroit to Minneapolis/St. Paul on Friday the 2nd. One thing we love about the Twin Cities is the light rail system. We were able to get from the airport to our hotel and everywhere else without renting a car. We stayed at a Hyatt that was two blocks from the starting line and it was definitely ideal for us. There was a discounted rate for marathon participants, the room was quiet, had a big living room area with a fridge, and was only a few blocks away from the light rail system.
We took the light rail out to St. Paul for the expo on Friday afternoon. We spent more time there than we had planned because there was so much stuff to look at.
I loved the Brooks booth and the cool cotton shirt Matt bought.
On Saturday morning we went for a quick two-mile shake out jog around the city, then took the light rail to the Mall of America. We’ve been to the mall several times and knew that it could be easy to spend half the day there if we weren’t careful. We made sure to target a few specific stores so we wouldn’t be on our feet too long.
We had a big lunch at Noodles and Company, then headed back to the hotel to rest our legs. We weren’t very hungry when dinnertime rolled around, but I knew I should eat something else. I thought a sandwich from Jimmy John’s or Subway might be good, yet every location near our hotel was closed by 6:00! Luckily our hotel had some decent pre-packaged sandwiches to choose from, so Matt and I split one of those and a huge blueberry muffin to get a few more carbs before bed. As expected, I didn’t sleep very well. I woke up pretty much every hour.
We woke up for good around 6:00, and I had a Picky Bar and water for breakfast. Our room’s window overlooked the starting line and the people starting to gather. It was nice that we could stay warm and have access to our own bathroom! With an 8:00 start time, I thought we might be pushing our luck not leaving the room until 7:45. Everything worked out perfectly though. We warmed up by jogging the couple of blocks to our corral. The starting corrals and gear check areas were extremely organized, making it easy for us to pull off our last minute arrival.
We got into Corral 1 easily and still had time to kill – picture time!
It was in the low 40s to start, sunny, and there was little wind. We really lucked out! I was comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts, and kept gloves on for the first few miles. I saw the 3:25 and 3:35 pace groups, but didn’t see 3:30. We stood somewhere in between to start. I really wasn’t nervous – I was excited. Matt and I stuck together for the first mile or so, taking in the great sights of downtown – skyscrapers, theaters, concert venues, and the ringing bells of the Basilica of Saint Mary. Congestion wasn’t a problem and I was happy and upbeat. Matt and I had different goals for the race, so we parted ways and wished each other good luck. After a few miles, we reached the chain of lakes. This is definitely where the “most beautiful urban marathon in America” part really comes into play. Captured from Google Maps, here are a couple of photos that show where we got to run.
As if the beautiful scenery wasn’t enough, the crowd support was amazing. I was blown away by how many spectators lined the course. They kept me entertained and distracted. It was fun to look at all of the signs, and a couple stood out as favorites:
“If Donald Trump can make it to the primaries, you can make it to the Capitol.”
“I tried running once. (Picture of Grumpy Cat) It was terrible.”
I usually think that crowd support is nice but not necessary for me to enjoy a race. After this race, I might think differently. That crowd definitely boosted my spirits and made me smile. Whenever I hit stretches without spectators, it gave me time to think…which wasn’t always a good thing! Much of the course was flat, and I rolled along feeling great. Whenever I did hit a hill early on, it was fairly minor and kind of nice to change things up for my leg muscles. I didn’t pay much attention to my watch early in the race. I ran at a pace that felt comfortable and glanced down from time to time to see my splits. I guess I got a good feel for my pace during training, because I naturally ran somewhere between 7:50-8:00 per mile. I wore a hydration belt with water in one bottle and GU Brew in another bottle. I grabbed water at a few stops because I figured my bottles alone wouldn’t get me through the whole race. My Zoot triathlon shorts with side pockets worked great for nutrition storage. I ate five Honey Stinger Energy Chews around miles 5, 10, 15, and 19.
Things were all good for over half of the race. At a certain point, I started to feel the outside of my left knee. I hoped IT band issues wouldn’t become a problem. In addition, I started to feel my left hamstring and both calves. My muscles were definitely working hard. When I crossed the Mississippi River and reached Summit Avenue in St. Paul, that’s when things started to fall apart. I looked at my watch more often, counting down the remaining distance. I kept telling myself things like, “Just a 10K pace run left.” I knew that miles 20-23 would be tough because of a steady climb. I first broke around 21.5 miles after reaching the peak of one hill. I decided it would be best if I took a brief walk break – maybe only 10 seconds or so. I kept trucking along, but had to take another quick walk break after 23 miles. Another came after 25. I still managed to keep my pace in the 8:40s for the most part despite the brief breaks, but it’s clear from my splits that things went bad from 22 miles on. It was a struggle. My hamstrings and calves were wiped out. I wasn’t smiling anymore!
Based on my first marathon, I figured I’d end up running closer to 26.5 rather than 26.2. As much as I try to run the tangents, it can be hard when the streets are so wide and there are people to weave around. I knew that extra bit would add a couple minutes to my time, but I also knew that even if I hit a 9:00 pace for the last couple miles, I’d finish in at least 3:35. With a BQ time of 3:40, I was still on track. Eventually I made it to the final half mile, which was basically all downhill – in a good way! I came up to the 3:35 pacer who encouraged everyone to finish ahead of him. That downhill was a savior. I finished mile 26 in 8:38, but suddenly dropped to a 7:26 pace for the last half mile! Rather than stumbling across the finish line, I felt like I was flying. What a great way to end the race. I think every marathon should end down a hill!
My official finish time was 3:34:01 – eight minutes faster than my first marathon, and 5:59 under my BQ time! It sunk in and emotions got to me for a second when a volunteer put the medal around my neck. I really did it – I finished my second marathon and did it fast enough to make it to Boston! Here’s how the race played out for me, mile by mile:
I walked around for a few minutes and stretched my hamstrings and calves. After my first marathon, all I could think about was how much I hurt. Despite struggling through the final miles of this race, I actually felt okay when I was done. I drank some Powerade and chocolate milk. I ate a roll, but my mouth didn’t feel great trying to chew it. I also got a bag of potato chips.
After recovering for a few minutes, I had to check my phone to see how Matt was doing. His dad was so supportive and tracked both of us. He had already sent a congratulatory text to me. Matt had struggled with breathing problems and low energy the entire training segment, and his dad told me that Matt had crashed around 20 miles with breathing problems. By that time, he had just passed the 24-mile mark. I kept checking my phone, then got the text from the race tracker saying that he had finished. I rushed back towards the finish line to find him. We hugged and both of us got a bit emotional. He was excited that I had gotten my BQ, and I was excited that he toughed it out and finished the marathon. I knew it had to be a struggle for him, but he did it.
We collected some refreshments for Matt, then headed to gear check so we could get into some warmer clothes. Next, we picked up our finisher shirts. One fun thing about the Twin Cities Marathon is that they keep their medals and finisher shirts secret so people are surprised on race day. You have to actually finish the race to earn the shirt. I wasn’t thrilled when I saw that the shirt was white. White is not my favorite color since it tends to be see-through. Oh well. I do really like how they cleverly used the “15” in “finisher.” At the very least, Matt and I had both ordered training shirts when we signed up for the marathon, so I already wear that shirt a lot.
We got our free beers and hung out for a few more minutes.
Eventually we knew we should head back to Minneapolis and get something to eat. My head started to feel funny, almost dizzy-like, and I realized later that I probably should have eaten more than a roll and a bag of chips. Nearly two hours had passed since I had finished. We had a nice big meal at an Irish Pub and I felt a lot better. Knee/IT band pain kicked in and left me limping a bit, but nothing like after my first marathon. I actually felt pretty good! That all changed by the next morning, when the true soreness kicked in. It was a slow walk through the airport on Monday! I was sore for a couple days after the race, but pretty much normal again by Thursday.
Matt and I both absolutely loved our Twin Cities experience. Aside from struggling through the late miles on Summit Avenue, everything was amazing. I highly recommend this race. While it took a couple years in between for me to get around to running my second marathon, this one immediately left me anxious to go run another one. At the very least, it looks like I’ll have to plan on heading to Boston in 2017!
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