A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 3rd Edition
52.4 miles raced in 2023 races
Race: Run for the Lakes Marathon
Place: Nisswa, MN
Miles from home: 137
Weather: 38 degrees and party sunny; shifting winds
I was nervous.
I can probably count on one hand the number of times in my life I’ve actually been nervous. Anxious, excited, maybe even trepidacious about what lay ahead, but rarely am I nervous. The night before this marathon, I was tossing and turning, wondering if I could even run 26.2 miles.
If you don’t necessarily follow all of my exploits and travels just know that four weeks ago I DNFd my first ever marathon. 164 times I started a marathon and through whatever came my way, 164 times I finished. Death, taxes, and me finishing a marathon. But, in what was supposed to be my first marathon finish in 3.5 years and also my first marathon since my mother passed away basically everything went to crap and I had to pull out right after the halfway point. It left a bitter taste in my mouth, even though I knew it was the right thing to do.
I spent the next few weeks recovering from that race even though I knew that I had to quickly find another marathon or this was going to weigh on my mind. I originally thought about a marathon about 90 minutes away from my home in Minneapolis but when we had a freak streak of hot weather here, I decided I would wait until closer to the race date to make sure I knew what the weather was going to be like before I signed up. About a week before the race, it appeared the weather would be fine. I went to sign up but the race was full. I sent an email to the race director but didn't get a reply. Not even a "Sorry, we are full!" which I would have completely accepted.
So, I looked around and found a smaller race a little bit further way in Brainerd, Minnesota. Well, technically the race is in Brainerd but the race benefits or is sponsored by a Brainerd organization located just south. I quickly looked over the course and saw that it was two loops and looked relatively flat. Chilly weather was in the forecast but not too cold. I figured there is no time like the present and signed up for it just a few days before the event.
I drove up the day before the race, had a litany of small town encounters which just made me laugh and grabbed a quick pasta dinner with some other racers. I was ready for an earlier night and some good sleep. And unlike last marathon, I didn't have to be up at 3 a.m. to catch a bus. Getting four more hours of sleep, driving two miles and parking at the start line was looking like a much better deal. However, the night before, as I tossed and turned in a fitful sleep, things didn't feel good. I thought perhaps maybe I was going to DNF two marathons in a row. I thought maybe I should see if I could drop to the half-marathon. I contemplated missing my alarm and not even going. I have never had such worries. But I finally fell asleep.
When I woke the morning of the race, I was surprisingly rested. Getting to the starting line, I was happy with how the weather looked and began reading myself for the race. It was a small event with not even 100 marathoners and I knew it was likely I would spend much of the time running all by myself, making it not much more than a glorified training run. As I parked my car less than a block from the start, I decided to simply wait there until literally five minutes before the start of the race before getting out and walking to the start line. The announcer gave almost a WWF wrestling style over-the-top selling of how the United States was "the greatest country in the world" before introducing the person who would sing the national anthem. After she finished, but before the countdown for the race began one of the older gentleman presenting the colors of the flag of the local VFW or whatever seemingly accidentally fired his gun. Everyone froze wondering if that was the start of the race. We all looked at each other as the announcer assured us we would begin in just a few second. My only two questions were:
1. Since we soon learned that the guns were not how we would start the race, why was the gun loaded?
2. Sweet baby Jesus I hope it was loaded with a a blank.
Soon thereafter, a countdown from ten started, and away we went.
As the race had a marathon Half Marathon and Marathon and a Marathon Relay, all running the same way, I knew it was going to be difficult to tell who was running which race. But as all I wanted to do on this day was finish, it didn’t matter to me really what place I finished in. I could tell, however, that two of the runners in front of me were running the marathon, so as we hit the first mile, I simply assumed I was running in third place. If it stayed like that, great. If it didn't, I didn't care.
As a few tall, lanky young fellas disappeared into the distance and I guessed they were either running the half marathon, or running so fast, it didn’t matter because I would never see them in my race anyway. I had driven the course the night before, and realized that my thoughts of how flat it would be were incorrect. Hardly what one would say were killer hill,s it was nonetheless quite rolling. The half of this loop wasn't too bad and I was pleased with my splits for the first two miles. As we hit the 3rd mile, it dawned upon me that barring unforeseen circumstances, I was going to finish this race. I simply felt far too good to have the bottom fall out later on. I let out a huge sigh of relief, even with 23 miles to go, almost tempting the racing gods.
To the 10k:
Right around the 5th mile I heard footsteps from behind, and soon a guy was passing me. I did not get a chance to look at his bib to see what color he had in order to ascertain whether he was in the Marathon but given how quickly he had passed me, it seemed quite evident that he was only doing the half. I decided I would use his energy to pull me along without going out of my own comfort zone. Before too long one of the two Marathoners in front of me was coming back into sight. The crisp air felt wonderful on my skin and just enough sun flitted through the trees. The scenery was gorgeous and there was still mounds of snow on the ground in places with trees limbs fallen on the side of the road. The record-setting winter this year in Minnesota had obviously not spared the foliage in Nisswa. But the roads were clear, well-paved, and dotted with the occasional sign encouraging runners.
One older gentleman stood off of the road, no where near a car, or a house, or anything else which would give one a reason to see why he was there exactly. As I passed by gave me the quietest "Go get 'em" that you have ever heard. Like it was a secret.
Onto the Half
Within a mile or two the guy that I was trailing passed that marathoner ahead of us. I soon found myself at mile 11 doing the same thing. I hadn't expected to catch up to him this quickly but another half-marathoner had passed me and I was using his energy now as well.
As the marathoners reached our halfway point, we peeled off from the half marathoners and went a slightly different direction away from the finish line. I was surprised to hear another set of footfalls behind me. Another marathoner? I crossed the timing mat for the halfway point and heard this guy say “is this the finish for the half?" I turned around and told him he was in the wrong place and tried to point the way he had to go. I then asked the people at the aid station to make sure he got where he needed to be. I don’t know how he missed his turn, but I felt awful for him. I hope if he crossed the half timing mat they would give him a time for that instead of having to back track to the actual finish.
To Mile 20:
There is something about running a loop that really suits my running style. Even though I had just started the second equidistant loop, I felt I was already 2/3 of the way done with this race. I already knew exactly where all the hills were which took out the mental aspect. All I had to do was execute. As I got to one section that was an out and back which would allow me to see the runners in front of me, I was surprised to see the gentleman who I thought was running a half marathon zip by. Soon there after I saw the marathoner I knew was running followed suit. They had a couple of minutes on me, but I thought perhaps if things broke my way, maybe I could move up the leaderboard. As I passed through one intersection, I asked what place I was in and the one guy said I was fifth overall. Now I was completely confused and decided to put what place I was out of my mind and simply keep running.
The Run to the Finish:
Each twist of the run revealed I was getting closer and closer to what I had been told would be second place. As I didn’t care either way between second and third I wasn’t exactly trying to overtake the runner in front of me, but as we ran through the back half of the course which was decidedly more hilly than the front half, and also with a steady headwind in our face, I soon found myself in that runner's back pocket. A little downhill section with a cool glass of water in my throat made me decide to make a definitive move and put him in my rear view mirror. I figured I was simply going to finish second overall for the fourth time in my last seven marathons.
Little did I know that the runner in front of me who I formerly thought was running the Half Marathon seem to be battling some stomach issues. Poor guy had to stop on multiple occasions to evacuate what was inside of him. I’m glad I didn’t know that he was as close as he was because I probably would’ve done more damage trying to pass him then good. You see, as I continued on, the wind really took a toll and dashed any hopes of running a sub 3:10 marathon. For me, that’s the gold standard of a Boston qualifier. In fact, this is the first time in my life my Boston qualifying standard hasn’t been 3:10. Every year that the Boston marathon has tightened up the standards for the race has been the same year that I got into an older age bracket. So from my very first marathon 21 years ago until now 3:10 has always been what I have shot for. Now, I get 3:20, because I am old!
Regardless, as I hit the homestretch and saw that I was, in fact, going to finish this marathon, I really thought that I was going to be overwhelmed with joy. Instead, I simply finished the race pointing up to the sky thinking of my mom, cross the finishline in 3:12:44. This was only my 83rd fastest marathon ever but few have meant more to me.
After asking around and not finding any definitive results, I hopped on the results pages and saw that I had in fact finished third overall. Still good enough for a podium. It ends up that one of those tall, lanky fast Half Marathon hers was also in the marathon. In addition, this young fella is the same running club that I am in Minneapolis. So, the Mill City Runners took a 1-3 on the podium. Not too shabby.
Couple of quick thoughts about the race:
1. This is a surprisingly challenging course with lots of little ups and downs. It's not "tough" but it is not easy. The second loop really felt like they jacked up the hills from the first loop.
2. In spite of it being sparsely populated with both runners and spectators, you didn't necessarily feel all that alone. The two loops helped you feel like you weren't all too far from anyone.
3. This was very well-run with volunteers at all the turns and cones to keep you safe. Plenty of liquids including actual Gatorade and not some random energy drink you have never had that the race took because it was free.
4. Looks like Olympic Trial qualifier and super speedy Dakotah Lindwrum (2:25:01 PR) paced someone through the first half of their marathon. *Napoleon Dynamite voice*: "Lucky".
5. Two runners ran some ridiculously even splits with a 1:44:44 first half and1:44:26 second half. And they finished hand-in-hand. That's cool.
6. It appears I ran the fastest second half of the marathon with a 1:38:21, a four-minute positive-split
I cannot tell you how relieved I was to finish this race. I am shockingly not sore the day after. My energy is not drained from me at all. I am quite surprised that I was so unbelievably nervous given how easy this race was for me. I know well-meaning friends told me "I knew you could do it!" but I sure as hell didn't know that just 7 hours before the race started.
But I lowered my lifetime marathon average by a whole two seconds (3:18:24), nabbed my 78th Boston Qualifier, and really shaped my racing for the rest of the year with this marathon off of my back.
*whew* Thanks for getting me through this, Mom.