Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Twin Cities Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 21st Edition 
275.9 miles run; 16 miles biked; 800 meters swam in 2015 races
Race: Twin Cities Marathon
Place: Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN
Miles from home: 1726
Weather: 50s; Dry; Sunny

When I think about recommending a race to others I ask them about two different things: are they looking to run a good time or are they looking to have a good time. Very few races offer both except for the fact that running a good time can often trump whether you had a good time along the course. Having said that, the Twin Cities marathon is not an easy course. It is not exceedingly difficult either, especially in today's world of making races difficult for difficult's sake alone. However, if you wish to be involved in a race which is very well-run, extremely well-supported and showcases two beautiful urban areas in the United States, you would be hard pressed to find anything much better than this race. Will you run a good time? Perhaps, but you will work for it. Will you have a good time? The odds are highly likely you will.

After a past month of two marathons in Europe, a half marathon in Utah, a triathlon in Oregon and a business trip to Vegas, I would hardly say I was in good shape to run this race. Well-meaning friends who just "know" you are going to do good in a race are just that: well-meaning. You thank them and know that you are a wiped-out and tired mess. But going into this marathon the promises of 40-50 degree weather with cloudy skies meant that at this marathon I would be running in the best weather for a race in...let me see...Oh yeah...forever.

As I was a presenter at the race I had the wonderful luxury of having some of the amenities of being an elite athlete available to me. Getting shuttled to a hotel near the start where I could stay warm and relaxed for a bit (even if it was simply lying on a carpeted floor) and mingle with some elite friends and make new ones was pretty sweet. It also meant I had to be up at 5:30 a.m. for an 8 a.m. start, so there are trade-offs for this night owl. People politely inquired throughout the week how I thought I would do. I had no idea. I was hoping for somewhere around 3 hours and if I had it in me to dip down under. If not, a 3:05 would have made me happy. But I was really without a clue when it came with how I would do. I knew I wouldn't be shooting for a PR and other than a few people in the room who were 20 years older than me, I was the slowest one there.

I walked to the start with Michael Wardian, one of the best runners out there at being able to take on both short distance, marathons, and ultras, all week after week.  His stamina and versatility is quite amazing. Also met a new friend named Mike who, I didn't know at the time, was dealing with some pretty bad foot issues. We chatted away and just tried to enjoy the fact that the race was slightly chilly and the atmosphere was fantastic. Then we parted ways as they did last minute strides and prepped for running blazingly fast. I went to the bathroom and stood around looking at people. Oh, the dichotomy.

First Six Miles: 6:45, 7:10, 6:57, 6:58, 7:02, 7:00

As I was close to the front of the race and I knew many would either be running faster than me or going out too fast, I was unsurprised when dozens upon dozens streamed past me in the first few miles. I did my best to hold myself in check and simply try to go out at a sub-3 pace. The first mile was a little hot so I gladly backed off the throttle. A surprising hill at mile 2 helped me do just that and suddenly I was right where I needed to be.

The sheer number of people around me was startling. I did the math and found out that you would have to combine the last 16 marathons I have run to get more finishers (9727) than would finish the Twin Cities Marathon alone (8579). I have, for the most part, been running essentially training runs with no one around me for three years and getting a finisher's medal when I did it. This is a hard way to race. Having others around me was a blessing. Having so many others around me was a bit of a nuisance.

As we hit the third mile and began to spin around the Lake of the Isles, two things would soon become evident. The first was that the first half of this marathon consisted of many small bends in the road that made running the tangents essential to not running too far. Having so many others around you makes this rather difficult. You have to spend a great deal of mental energy trying to pick a path through the runners. At least you have to if you don't want to be a jerk, that is.  No matter how fast I am running, my speed always will take a seat to race etiquette.

The second evident thing was that no matter what I tried, no matter how much I surged or laid off the throttle, I was going to run right around 7 minute miles. Without fail, every mile passed by and I expected something either much faster or mush slower based on the effort it took to run that mile. However time and time again, I basically had 7 minutes per mile popping up on my watch. As I knew 7 minutes per mile equaled a 3:03:33 (one of those random things I remember about marathon pace)I figured that I might as well stick with this as long as I could. If a sub-3 wasn't in the cards, there is no sense trying for it and bonking. I didn't want to run a 3:33:33.

To the Halfway: 6:59, 6:59, 7:02, 7:05, 6:57, 7:12, 7:13

Passing by Lake Calhoun, we were onto a slimmer road where the jostling became a little more dicey.  However, in spite of the extra runners to be wary of, I was enjoying myself. In fact, each mile that went by at almost exactly 7 minutes began to tickle me. I began to think of a race I did where no matter what I tried, I ran almost the exact same pace mile after mile.Trying to recall exactly what race it was helped passed the time (I only had 82 half marathons and 155 marathons to go over in my mind as to what race it was. I ended up remember it was the Kiawah Island Half Marathon where I ran 6 out of 7 miles at exactly 6:35.) The thing about the marathon is that even at a good clip, you have three hours to be alone with your mind. If you run it correctly, you are more or less spending two hours of solid controlled running until you get to the nitty gritty where you push.  So often you are just biding time until those two hours are gone. With me, I like to think about stats.

After passing Lake Harriet there was a funny yet cruel spectator sign which said we were 28% done. I think it was meant to be encouraging but it was just a little the opposite. Around here I began to hear the chatter of a group behind me. As I would come to learn, this was the 3:05 pace group. Why they were so close to me here confused me. Perhaps the desired pace was to run even effort and they would slow on the hills I had heard about near the end of the race. Banking time, so to speak. Although, that is a strategy which almost never works. For some reason I began to worry for these runners, relying on a pacer who may be taking them out too fast. I also didn't like a herd of runners right on my heels. So, I picked up the pace, turned on the afterburners...and ran the exact same mile again. Huh.

We spent the next few miles on the Minnehaha Parkway next to the Minehhaha Creek. Even here, in a relatively out of the way place, the amazing spectators were lining the course. As sick of cowbells as I am (especially when they are wrung AT you) the energy and fervor of the people here lived up to its reputation. I can unequivocally state that throughout the course, my spirits and energy level were extrinsically raised by those cheering the runners onward. As I mentioned above, it has been a long time since I have felt this lift. It did not go unappreciated.

After the 10th mile, the 3:05 pace group passed me. I was astonished. I decided to hang with them for the remainder of the mile to experiment. I wanted to see if I could keep up their pace and I wanted to see exactly what pace they were running. When we hit mile 11 and I ran a 6:57 (a 3:02 marathon pace) I just shook my head. Whatever the pl an of this pace group was, I didn't understand it and wasn't going to hang around. I slowed down a bit and expected to fall back into my previous tempo.

But suddenly it was as if the group, which just began to disappear in front of me, had stuck a needle in my body and sucked out all the energy I had.  My next two miles to the half, both way slower than I expected, left me dumbfounded. The other thing about the marathon, which is oh so cruel, is when you realize it is not going to be a good day, you know you still have two more hours of running just to finish what you know you are still not going to be happy with. I tried not to think about this and instead focused my energy elsewhere. We circumvented Lake Nokomis and I looked at the waters wistfully. I wondered if it would have been more fun to be in a canoe on one of the lakes today than out here running.

Pushing toward mile 20 7:23, 7:06, 7:19, 7:25, 7:37, 7:24, 7:19

I have often said that mile 14 is one of the most important miles in a marathon. After the energy boost of passing through the halfway point, this mile can often set the tone for the rest of the race. There is always the chance for a letdown after half-marathon and if you run a strong 14th mile, then you can hopefully ride that to the end. I ran 23 seconds slower than I wanted to run here. Ooof.

Fortunately the 15th mile was much better and I hoped that I had just experienced a weird three-mile lull. Hopefully the next few miles would prove to show my turn around was about to happen. Running alongside the Mississippi River would be wonderful if you could in fact tell you were running alongside the Mississippi River. I often hear people tell tales of their races and they sound like travel agencies. They mention how it is near this body of water or this mountain or what have you. But in reality, while it is technically very close to any of those things, you often can't see it. All it takes is a line of trees or a slight mound of dirt to obstruct the view of virtually anything. In addition, if you are racing hard, you often only see right in front of your face. I was hoping for some views to perhaps pick up my spirits but saw none.  Then as my next few miles continued to slow, I was now noticing none of the beautiful homes to our left or even trying to glimpse the might Mississip to our right. I was trying to figure out what time I would be running if I kept up this pace. Math always distracts but it often does not give you the answer you are hoping for in a marathon.

Throughout the race there were a series of small hills. Nothing substantial but a plethora of them and while they may be small they were mighty (Thank you, Bard.) At the 18th mile, I walked up one of them for a bit. These ten seconds of walking slowed my pace obviously but it seemed to waken my legs. The next two miles, while crossing the river and then heading to the last 10k, were the fastest in half an hour. Perhaps I could keep up the pace and garner a 3:06 respectable marathon time.

Unfortunately, I did not know how hilly the rest of the course actually was.

Home to the Finish: 7:31, 7:53, 7:50, 7:25, 7:31; 7:18; 1:32

If you look at the elevation profile of the course, it hardly looks that daunting. Most of those hills I mentioned in the first half are almost imperceptible. And from mile 21-23, the hill which undoubtedly crushed the hopes and dreams of many is barely a 150 footer. But woe unto those who do not take these hills seriously.  The Summit Street that runners are on from mile 22 to virtually the end is aptly named. Even though I ran two miles far slower than I would like I began to pass runner after runner.

Throughout the race I was beyond happy the race had cooler weather. Nevertheless the sun was brightly shinning and without a doubt would have worn heavily on runners if not for how wonderfully shaded we were on this course. I would say 85% of the race provided cover of some sort. Here on Summit Street it was no different. A wetter than normal summer kept the trees from being their normally vibrant and beautiful colors. Nevertheless they were still gorgeous and their leaves were appreciated to no end.

Finally cresting the hill with a 5k left I was ready for what had been promised to me by spectators was an all down hill finish. Spectators lie. More rolling hills continued to pop up here and there every time I thought were were done with the climbs. I did the math and realized that I was not going to get any particular time I was hoping to get. In fact, if I didn't hunker down I would not be getting a Boston Qualifying time. I was not going to let that happen.

It has been quite some time since I have been able to really ignore pain, fatigue and suffering and slip into pain vision. This is what I call the narrowing of the eyes and the focusing on virtually nothing but a white line on the pavement in front of me.  While my pace did not exactly quicken, I was undoubtedly passing tons of runners (82 in the last 5 miles.) I cared not one bit about what place I finished or who I passed.  I wanted a time that was under 3:10.

Hitting mile 26 under a huge American Flag showed me I had about ten seconds to spare at my current pace.  Not wishing to risk it if the mile marker was a touch off, I picked up the pace. My eyes were on the clock and I saw its red blinking evil eye tick upward unmercifully. Finally, with a few meters to go I knew my hard work in the last few miles would finally pay off. I crossed under the finish line in 3:09:49 for my 55th fastest marathon ever. It was also my 16th 3:09 marathon. (That's what you get when you pace the 3:10 group so many times.)

Photo credit http://www.bengarvin.com/
There were too many friends and acquaintances running this race for me to mention all of them. However, I know many tough times were had and many personal bests were set. I came to this race looking to see if it deserves to be in the "must run" category. In spite of my less than stellar time, I can say that to experience the Twin Cities Marathon is to experience America. A crisp cool day surrounded by lakes and trees with completely random strangers whom you will never see again in your life, screaming their heads off for you for the 5 seconds they see you.  Hometown feel with big city know-how.

Running is not the cure-all for all that ails you. In addition, America is not a perfect place. But while running this marathon in the cities which are so different it is hard to understand why they are called twins on a beautiful fall day you may make just think that maybe the sport and this country are as close to perfect as we are going to get, even if just for a few hours on a Sunday in October.


Anonymous said...

Excellent recap. In my opinion, the crowd support rivaled that of Boston. That may not be a fair assumption since the weather was so crappy in Boston this year. At any rate, I completely agree with your comment on pacers & banking time. That is one of the main reasons that I have not done well running with them. Missed you at the expo. Got in late to pick up packet & thought it a bit crowded in there. Happy for you with your finish time. You are still a beast!

Unknown said...

Dane, this was a great review. Boston and Mexico city are the only large marathons I have done. I can attest to the jostling, not fun. Banking time has never worked for me. Pacers should just always aim for constant splits.

SpyGuitar said...

Twin Cities was only my 9th marathon, but it was definitely one of my favorites. Beautiful scenery and, as you said, the crowd support was fantastic. I'll definitely be coming back.