How do I even begin? My journey to Grandma’s Marathon was not the normal way to get to a race. I didn’t go online and sign up, I didn’t just opt to sign-up for a race in a state I had never been to, and I certainly didn’t decide to do three marathons in one year again. But then it happened… I won the entry into Grandma’s Marathon via Fitsok’s Facebook page. They offered the race entry for the best reason to want to run it. Grandma’s Marathon had been on my bucket list of races since I found out about it from some other runners and via a Runner’s World article calling it one of the top ten to run in the U.S. I responded to their contest, stating this, and unbeknownst to me, I was chosen as the winner of the race entry that night. One of my running buddies had to text me to tell me to check Facebook to see that I had won. Her question was “Are you ready to run another marathon this year?” I was clueless til I read the post that I was chosen. I was certain my coach was going to shoot me for putting another marathon in the books. I was wrong. He loved the idea of me running a race with a long standing reputation.
And so it began… plans of travels, and places to stay, and what to do when I got there. Plans of figuring out my work schedules, and where Murphy would stay started to fall into place. Then it hit me. This was good karma. I needed to put good karma back into the world, and it needed to be related to this race. I talked with some friends, and opted to open a GiveForward page in honor of my Dad, who has been fighting Multiple Sclerosis for longer than I have been alive. I set a lofty goal for a fundraiser in hopes of being able to make a sizable contribution in honor of my Dad. Once I started reading all the details on Grandma’s Marathon’s webpage, I realized I could also be a part of the MS Society team and run to “Finish MS.” Once I had raised the appropriate amount, I reached out to the head of the committee for the team, and shared my story about my Dad and his battle with MS. I was given instructions on how to sign up and to transfer the funds to the MS Society in his honor. I was officially a part of the MS Society “Finish MS” running team for Grandma’s Marathon!
With all the logistics falling into place, I practiced packing a backpack to hold all of my necessary belongings and running gear for this four day adventure to Duluth, Minnesota. I was determined to travel with just a backpack and a mostly empty bag so that I wouldn’t have to cart a ton of stuff around at the expo when I arrived, nor would I have to check any bags at the airport. I successfully managed to fit it all in my backpack, and tossed a book, an empty water bottle, and a hoodie in my extra bag at the last minute as I left my home.
My flight was at 7:15am EST heading to Duluth. I hugged Murphy one more time, and headed out the door. I was excited, and nervous, and ready to get there. I kept my fingers crossed there were no flight delays. I arrived at the airport, went through security, and still managed to wait a bit before boarding my flight. Who knows why it takes so long to actually board a flight, but they always manage to drag it out, even when it’s a puddle jumper. As I got on the plane, settled in, and hooked my seatbelt, I again crossed my fingers that we would take off before there was any chance for a delay. Thankfully, we took off quickly, and were up and away before I knew it. I took out my book, and tried to read a few pages, but my eyes wouldn’t focus. I nestled my head against the seat and my hoodie, and closed my eyes for a while. Sometimes the best naps are the short ones you sneak in when you can.
I opted to photojournal my journey and took some pictures when I woke up to the Captain turning the seatbelt sign off. The flight attendant offered me a drink, and I chose the spicy Bloody Mary mix without the vodka. I certainly could use the extra salt and the vitamins from the tomato juice before my race. I had to stay hydrated also as I flew. I attempted a Sudoku puzzle or two, but failed miserably. I opted to draw a picture of a person pushing numbers up over a hill to make a pattern in the magazine instead. Enjoy next person who sits there! Enjoy. The Captain soon told us we would be landing at O’Hare Airport, and I was again getting anxious about my connecting flight. I knew I had about four hours between flights, but I just hoped my connecting flight was on time so I could get to the expo in enough time to get my bib for the race!
Once in Chicago, I rode the bus to my next departing terminal, grabbed some food, and wandered around for a bit. Once I settled into my gate, I put my legs up the wall to ease some tightness in my hamstrings, and to just relax. Must be people don’t see others doing yoga in the airport often. I didn’t care. It helped me. I worked on my book some more, and made it a few chapters before I started texting people to say hello. Soon enough, I got a text from United Airlines saying my gate had changed, and I made the walk to the next gate.
Shortly after getting to the gate, we were boarding for my flight to Duluth. It was on time! The whole way to Duluth, I managed to sleep once again, and only woke as the Captain said we were about to land. I was pumped to be getting off the plane, and landing in Minnesota. Once we landed, or rather bounced down the run way, I made my way to the waiting taxis. I found a taxi to make to the convention center where I would be picking up my packet, meeting the committee director of the MS Society running team, and eating a spaghetti dinner!
I’ve been to plenty of expos before, but this one was pretty large, yet fairly organized. There were so many people there, that even with the wide aisles between booths, it was challenging to maneuver with my backpack on. As light as I traveled, I wonder if there would be a way to rent a locker space or something for the next time I travel like this. I introduced myself to the awesome owners of Fitsok who gave me the entry to Grandma’s Marathon, (Thanks Jeff and Mike!), managed to find my way through the official race apparel section of the expo with only a jacket and a 26.2 Grandma’s Marathon sticker, and then found my way to the MS Society tent outside.
I was just tired from all the travel and was ready to put some food in my belly. Once I got my spaghetti dinner ticket, I made my way to the area of the convention center to get food. I wasn’t sure how good this meal would be considering it was made en masse. It was surprisingly really yummy! They even had chocolate milk to drink and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for dessert! I was sold! I had one of those high school moments when I had my tray in hand, and scanned the whole eating area. Who was I going to sit with? I finally made my way to a table, and just asked if I could sit down. I met some people who were also running the race, and had run it several times. I got a quick description of what the course was really like, and what to expect on race day. It’s nice finding locals at out of town races. They really do give you the scoop.
I finished my dinner, and made a buddy who dropped me off at where I was staying for the duration of my trip. I checked in, and immediately changed into running gear for a shakeout run. I explored the area around where I stayed, and made my way back. I figured it was better to do a shorter run, than to keep exploring and be too tired. By then, I was ready for a shower, and to put my feet up. It was nearing 7pm East Coast time, and I was tired from having been up since 5am EST. I talked to Coach about strategy for the race while I was icing my legs down one last time. I took a quick shower, got settled into my pajamas, set out everything I would need the next day for the race, and read for a little bit more before calling it a night. I had an early morning ahead of me. Fortunately, I slept really well, and woke up at 4am CST with no problems. I was so excited about the race that I had butterflies in my stomach! I looked outside and saw no sunshine, but no rain either. I was hopeful the weatherman was wrong, and we wouldn’t get any storms or rain.
I quickly put on my running gear, ate my breakfast, and made my way down to the shuttle in front of the building by 5:10am. I was ready to go. I forgot that since this race is a point to point race, we had to ride the bus all the way to the start line, and I was staying closer to the finish line. Thankfully, the shuttle turned out to be a coach bus, and it rode really smoothly the entire way there. I sat next to a man who had run this race before, and he talked the whole way to the start line, distracting me from thinking about what I was about to do. We pull up to the starting line area, and had to wait our turn to get off the bus. There were so many buses there that I lost count, and each one was packed with runners! How awesome is that to see all these runners ready to roll so early in the morning!
As we walked towards the starting line, I realized how chily it actually was outside, and pulled my hoodie out of my checked bag, and over my head. 57 degrees felt chilly after having left the high 90s at the beach with high humidity. I knew I was cold now, but that it would be great once the race started. We arrived just before 7am, and had 45 minutes before the race would begin. I opted to not give up my hoodie nor my checked bag yet, and made my way to the porta-potty for the first of several times. As I waited in line, it started to rain, but it was really sporadic. Once I got out of the porta-potty and was walking around to stay loose, the sky opened up and it POURED. I managed to sneak under an umbrella with a few ladies, but I don’t know that it really helped because I was already wet, and it was only 7:15am. Now I was chilly, and wet, and shivering. I was doing my best to stay calm so I didn’t waste much energy. I needed to be mentally ready for the race. I focused on getting my headphone wires fed through the back of my sports bra. I used my “lucky” inhaler. I talked to the ladies about where I am from, and how the weather is so different right now. I pulled on my MS Society hat that I grabbed last minute in case it did rain. I adjusted my ponytail so the hat would fit. It was now 7:30am, still pouring, and the wind was blowing. I had to suck it up to peel off my hoodie, turn in my checked bag, and make it to the porta-potty one last time.
Some tall guy stepped on the back of my shoe as I got in line, and then offered to share his tarp to keep me out of the rain for being a jerk. I took advantage. It was better than shivering again. He left it with me when people started to line up in the corrals. I knew I had 8 minutes, and that the timing chip time would start when I did. I stayed in the porta-potty line until it was my turn. As I came out, a train was going by with friends and families waving at us and wishing us luck. That was pretty awesome! Just as I got in the corrals, the middle corrals started to take off. The rain kept coming, and I was shivering, but walking towards the start line was making my grimace quickly turn to a smile. I was ready. I reassured myself that I had trained in the pouring rain, on bridges no less, and I was ready.
I turned on my Garmin, and we finally got to the start line. Off we went with the rain pouring, and everyone cheering. I was full-on grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I was ready to go, to prove that I could tackle the marathon distance once again. By this point my fingers were prune-y and really, really cold. I was so glad I opted for my capris at the last minute because my bare shoulders were covered in goose bumps until close to mile 2. I saw people running in trash bags, watched as people pitched extra layers in the middle of the street, carefully stepped my way around each thing in the road, and maneuvered my way through the runners not going my pace. I saw a sign up ahead for Murphy Street, and knew I had to take a fast picture while I was starting to warm up before I had to be serious. I snapped a picture of the street sign and the other runners around me who were just as soaking wet as I was. It was proof that we did it, in the pouring rain, with puddles in the street.
I put my phone away, plugged my earbuds back in, and kept on trucking. I knew my focus for the race was to maintain a steady pace throughout, and to gradually decrease my time per mile every 8 miles. I knew to check in with myself and be realistic about what I could hold, what was too much, and when I was talking negatively to myself. I started with a 10:20 pace, and found myself picking it up just because of my giddiness for the race. I knew if I didn’t reign it in, I would be spent towards the back 3rd of the race, just like every other marathon, and I wasn’t willing to do that. As I ran, I tried to take in my surroundings and really see who and what was around me. Within mile two, another train with more friends and families passed us, and I enthusiastically waved at them as they went by. Talk about having a feel good moment! I know I didn’t know any of these people, but having a train go by us like that made me feel like a celebrity! We had our own paparazzi!
The scenery in Minnesota was absolutely gorgeous! The rain seemed to only intensify how green everything was, and there was so much to look at. These Minnesotans are some serious loggers. I honestly forgot how many log cabins, log signs, log trucks, and log references we passed as we ran because I lost count!! They also seem to love their moose, and I thought that was super cute as well. I realized as we continued to run how some people really seemed uncomfortable running in the rain. I felt bad for them, but was super thankful for all the wet runs I had done, and just kept moving forward. I felt really good through the first 8 miles, and stayed within my range for time.
As I approached mile 9, I started to increase my time to a 10:15 pace. At that point, we were going up one of many “rolling hills” that echo the Rudee’s Inlet Bridge, and I went by feel rather than pace. The hills didn’t feel like a challenge to me after all those bridge repeats I have been doing since December. It was nice to know my legs were well prepared for them. By mile 11, I noticed my tummy wasn’t very happy, and that I would soon need a porta-potty. I was highly disappointed, but didn’t want to risk not being anywhere near one on the course. I tried to stop at mile 12, but despite the short line, the runners in the porta-potties were not moving fast enough for me. As I stood there waiting, another runner went by and mentioned that up near mile 13 were about 100 porta-potties. She wasn’t kidding. At mile 13, I made my visit, and quickly hurried on my way, with a happy tummy.
By this point, the rain had tapered but not out and out stopped. By mile 16, I had seen a lot of the beautiful Lake Superior and was in awe of such an incredible sight to see while running this race. The sun started to peek out from behind the clouds and the humidity that came with it felt like someone had just thrown a wool blanket over my head. My legs felt heavy, my breathing wasn’t so steady, and I had to do a quick mental check-in and remind myself that it was okay to slow down a bit to regroup, and get moving. I allowed myself to walk through the next couple water stops, and pour water over my head to cool down. Soon enough the sun went away, and it started to half mist, half rain again. While the rain felt good, the temperature had increased, and the pace had slowed with it. I found myself behind a couple running together that was pushing my previous pace, and I forced myself to stay with them. I distracted myself by looking at Lake Superior, which reminds me of the ocean with endless blue water, and is surrounded by evergreen trees.
I found that I was arguing with myself about sticking with this couple. They were staying within about 10 to 20 seconds on either side of a 10:20, which it where I wanted to be, but after the little burst of heat, my legs didn’t want to cooperate. I fought it. I didn’t want to give in. I stuck it out with them until mile 20 when they backed off and walked longer than the water stop. By this point in the race, we had had very little cheers or signs or support on the course due to the way the race was set up from point to point. Around mile 20, the spectators started to get more plentiful, and it was definitely the boost I needed. I wanted so badly to be as consistent as I could for the race, but I felt my pace falling back. I was hot, and I knew I needed more salt tabs, and more cold sponges to squeeze water over my head. For those last miles, I kept checking in on myself on how I felt, tummy, head, legs, tummy, head, legs. Oh man. My fingers looked like sausages. Time for more salt tabs.
I felt my pace wavering, and I looked at my Garmin. It was mile 21, and I needed to push, even if it meant I was a low 11:00 pace. That was closer to 10:20 than a 14:00 walking pace. The miles seemed to drag by. I felt like 1/10 of a mile was FOR.EV.ER. Then I fussed at myself. This is nothing. It’s a loop around the neighborhood. There isn’t that much left. PUSH IT ERICA. As I passed the spectators, I held out my hand. I needed the high fives. I needed the motivation. I needed that push to keep going to get me across that finish line. I picked it up. I hit Lemon Drop Hill, and made it 2/3 of the way up before my right calf started to cramp. I refused to think about it. Cramp or no cramp, I was getting over the hill and finishing. I gave in enough to walk a bit. I hit the top of that hill, and I started running again. I knew that only smaller hills were left for me, and It was not going to be a challenge.
The signs started showing up in spectators’ hands. “Don’t poop, you’re almost there!” “Smile if you aren’t wearing underwear!” “Powerboost here!” “Free hugs!” “Free beer!!!” I had a kid chase after me with candy, and all I could do was shake my head “no.” Sometimes I wonder how I get out the “thank you” to the volunteer who hands me water at the end of a race. It takes a lot of energy to talk when you are running hard. Miles 22-nearly 25 were mostly downhill, and man did it feel really good on the legs to let my bodyweight pull me down those hills. People were cheering and clapping, and telling us we were almost there. I grinned. This time they weren’t lying. I saw a big sign on Superior Street that said “Welcome Runners.” Way to make us feel special, Duluth! That was a welcome sign to see that close to the end of the race.
At that point, we were running on a brick road, and my fear was slipping and falling after all the rain we had run through. Somehow, my feet managed to stay under me, and after struggling with the humidity, I suddenly felt strong again. I counted down by half miles at this point because I kept looking at my Garmin, wishing the miles would go by faster. I probably looked at it too much, but it kept me doing math in my head to distract me from what my legs were doing. We got towards the 24 mile marker and started making all kinds of turns to get to the finish line. I felt the energy around me from the crowds rising, and the energy of the runners dropping. I had to pick it up, or I would have been sucked in. I wanted to finish the race as consistently as I had started the race. I didn’t want to give into the desire to walk. I passed the 24 mile marker and found my breath ragged. I slowed to a walk for a hot second, sucked in some deep breaths, and took off again. I was NOT walking again. I was too close to finishing to even justify such a “break.” With each turn, I was getting more and more anxious to see the finish line. I turned the corner around the convention center where I had picked up my race packet just the day before. I saw the gorgeous water of Lake Superior once again and the overcast sky. I spotted the MS Society tent, and knew I was less than a mile away. The runners in front of me slowed to a walk, and I only took it as fuel to my fire, and picked up my pace. I heard a man shouting that we were only ½ a mile from the finish line. I knew it was a bit further, but I dug in anyways. I quit looking at my Garmin. I focused on not running anyone over, on taking the shortest tangent at each of the next corners, and at the faces of the crowd who were cheering us on.
I finally could see the finish line, and judged the point at which I would need to pick it up once again to be able to hold a flat out sprint. I targeted that point, I made the step, and went into sprinter mode. I gave it all the energy I had left, and flew through the finish chute. I was done. I had finished. I looked at my Garmin as I paused. It said 6:50 pace just before I hit the stop and save buttons. I was sprinting the last 3/10 of a mile in under 6:50 pace when I had just run 26 miles before? HOLY CANNOLI. I had done it. I finished my 7th marathon! I grabbed my water, my flower, my medal, and took a finisher’s picture.
I found someone at the medical tent to help me massage my calves to get the throbbing to stop, and to get the blood to flood the muscles again. I sucked down some powerade. I checked my split times. I had managed to run a mostly consistent race for 26.FREAKING2 miles! I had done it! Was it a PR? No. Did it matter? No. I had done what I had set out; I enjoyed an absolutely gorgeous race and I had run it consistently. I know that running a consistent race will someday get me to Boston. Right now, let me revel in my journey called Grandma’s Marathon. 26.2 is done in 4:45:15 for an overall average pace of 10:45! Woot woot! I beat those dinosaurs again!!!!
Live. Love. Run. Passionately!