Grandma's Marathon Race Report - Getting Close...

The focus of my early 2011 racing season came to a close on Saturday with the 35th Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.  Despite a rough last 8 miles, I finished 24th overall in a new PR of 2:22:53.  We had a great day for the race—temperatures in the low 50s and overcast—and despite falling short of my sub-2:19 Olympic Trials qualifying time goal, I left the weekend satisfied and encouraged. 

Based on my races and workouts leading up to Grandma’s, I knew that I was very close to being able to go sub-2:19.  Further, all of the external factors associated with a marathon were aligned for a great race.  Fast course, check.  Competition, check.  Good weather, check.  Talking to a few competitors before the race, it was clear that there were a number of Americans shooting for the Olympic Trials standard.  As we took off along Lake Superior at 7:30 a.m., I cruised through the opening mile in 5:20.  With some gentle downhills over the next 6 miles, I began to “bank” a little time on the 5:18 per mile pace required to run sub-2:19.  Miles 2 through 7 were passed in 5:11, 5:13, 5:17, 5:10 (catching up to a pack here), 5:17, and 5:18.  A group of about 6 runners had sorted itself out and we rolled through the half marathon in 1:09:16.  This is 31 seconds shy of my Half PR, and only 10 seconds slower than I ran at the Indy Mini Marathon 6 weeks ago.  Yet it’s exactly what I expected.  Proper marathon training isn’t conducive to running a fast half marathon (and I was also a bit under the weather in Indy). 

Around halfway, I began to grow quite tired muscularly.  I was comfortable at pace aerobically, but I was struggling to remain as efficient.  Here is where the one real weakness of my last 6 months of training began to show.  A lack of mileage due to time constraints (and a corresponding lack of mileage spent at marathon pace in training) had left me without the muscular endurance to support my current fitness.  From an aerobic perspective and a fueling perspective, my body was ready for sub-2:19, but the legs wouldn’t hold.  But of course mid-race, what else could I do but keep trying?  Knowing I should probably back off a bit, I continued to push, determined to keep rolling 5:18s as long as I possibly could.  I actually remained ahead of 5:18/mile pace until mile 18 (a 5:27 mile).  At this point, it was finally clear that I would not be qualifying for the Trials today. 

As the legs fell apart, I kept moving the best I could.  By mile 21, things were grim.  Note, this was not “hitting the wall” the way most mean it (bonking, running out of glycogen).  I have figured out fueling for the marathon and had adequately trained myself to burn a high percentage of fat at MP, ensuring my glycogen stores would last the full 26.2 miles.  But by now, I was running splits in the 5:45-5:50 range, and just couldn’t get moving any faster.  My last mile (a tough one with a lot of turns and some wind) was my only mile over 6:00—a 6:01.  The final time of 2:22:53 was a PR by about three and a half minutes, and the first solid marathon I have put together in three years. 

I think I probably had a 2:20-high or 2:21 in me if I would have run conservatively.  But if I had gone 2:20, I would have been mad at myself for not giving the Trials standard a shot.  I ran the race the only way I could run it.  I didn’t quite have the time in me, but along with a new PR, I came away with a very clear understanding of what was lacking in my preparations, and more importantly, how to correct this deficiency.  To some extent, of course, I knew before the race that muscular endurance could be an issue.  But there is no place for negative thoughts pre-race, so I pushed them aside.  It will continue to be tough to train the way I need to while working full time, but it’s all a matter of priorities.  As my roommate Dan often rhetorically asks, ‘How good do you want to be?’ 

One final note: Grandma’s was a wonderfully run race, and my host family, Judy and Packy, were truly great with their support.  I will definitely head back to Duluth in the future, hopefully near.  Grandma’s is hosting the 2012 and 2013 USATF Half Marathon Championships, so I would like to get back for one or both of those races.  And I would love to come back for the marathon some day too. 


  1. Great job Matt. Keep blogging and keep training. Are you going to try to qualify for the trials in another race this year? We should get a run in together sometime soon. Take it easy buddy, Eric.

  2. Thanks, Wa. I'm working out most evenings now, and weekend of course. We'll coordinate something soon. And you should stop by the party tomorrow night!

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