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.