The Not-So-Great Grandma’s Challenge

The invasion has begun, and will continue in full force tomorrow. This is my third summer living in Duluth, but I turned into a blasé townie rather quickly and look at Grandma’s Marathon as more of an inconvenience than an iconic event. I mean, it’s pretty cool that a relatively big-deal marathon happens in little ol’ Duluth, but I can’t haul myself out of bed early enough to truly spectate. Last year I did some spectating with a friend, but this year I’m going to be off on a long run on the trails, away from the crowds. I hope everyone clears out well before I roll up to Dunkin’ for my iced latte.

Last year, Grandma’s Marathon introduced a new feature: the Great Grandma’s Challenge. Participants in the challenge run the William A. Irvin 5K the night before the main event, and then run either the Garry Bjorklund half or the full Grandma’s. The major incentive to the challenge is guaranteed entry into the half (which has a lottery) or full (which sold out this year in October). The challenge is capped at 500 people, which I didn’t realize meant 500 people per race, until I asked the Twitter account and they clarified. The final total reported in the paper was 1079 challenge participants (including sponsor entries, I guess).

The Irvin 5K is capped at 2000 people. Anyone see a problem with this?

You know, not everyone wants to run a marathon, or even a half. Or maybe they do, but they just don’t want to run this one, or they can’t right now, or they want to someday and are working their way up. The Irvin 5K is a great way to get more people involved in the biggest weekend of the year in Duluth (sorry Tall Ships). So why cram the 5K with half and full runners? Why not let 1079 additional people join in the fun?

I would maybe understand it if the race wasn’t popular, or if the challenge was limited to, say, 250 people (12.5% of participants, rather than 54%). 1600+ people ran this race before the challenge started, so it’s not like this boosts numbers significantly.

Many of the runners of the 5K are there to support a marathoner/half-marathoner. Those 5K runners might be taking care of children, or meeting the runner at set points along the course for support, or volunteering during the main races. Now it’s full of marathoners/half-marathoners who could potentially be just walking the race in order to get around the lottery. Since the guaranteed entry appears to be for this year, it seems like they don’t even have to show up.

That’s not to say all the runners in the challenge are treating it as a joke. My friend Joe took up the gauntlet last year and ran the 5K in a fairly fast time, and then ran the marathon the next day. Of course, he also told me that he wasn’t happy with his marathon performance and had gone out too hard in the 5K…

The goal of the challenge seems odd to me. Keeping potentially another 1079 people from running the 5K and participating in the weekend doesn’t appear to be a good strategy. I haven’t heard of anyone planning to sign up for the 5K only to find it’s sold out, but that’s got to be a disappointment to anyone who makes that one of their target races. Allowing marathoners and half marathoners to crowd out people who prefer the 5K distance, who aren’t ready to run a marathon, who are new to running, or are supporting runners of the other two races is exclusionary to me. Elitist, too; I mean, this is probably partly me projecting my own issues, but the snobby attitude that 5K runners aren’t “real” runners or that the marathon/half marathon distances are more “serious” so it doesn’t matter if they’re crowded out (they’re probably all fat hobbyjoggers walking 6 abreast and taking selfies, AMIRITE??? I’ve gotta stop reading Let’s Run…) really bugs me, and this challenge gives credence to that mindset, even if it was unintentional.

I hope they can tweak the challenge to make the weekend more inclusive, while still providing a new level of difficulty and intrigue to runners who are looking for something more.

From the Sidelines

I ended up spectating at Grandma’s Marathon today for about an hour. I left the house shortly after the end of the women’s race, got some coffee, drove around for awhile deciding where to park, then walked about a mile down Superior Street following the runners, ending up in front of Pizza Luce, which is somewhere between miles 24 and 25. I think I ended up there right around the time the 3:45 or so runners were heading through (just guessing), and I stayed until the 4:45 pace group had gone by (I saw the pacer, so no guesses there).

As I was walking, I passed a lot of fans and sort of observed. Some people were yelling generic things, some people were clapping, others were calling out specific things (“Go braids! C’mon yellow shirt!” or other distinguishing characteristics), and some were silent and taking it all in. I passed a woman holding a small megaphone, who turned to the other people she was with. “Why don’t one of you say something?” she asked, holding out the megaphone. The others demurred, and she said “They’re never going to see you again, and it might make their day!” (Or something. I just remember the “They’re never going to see you again” part.) I took that to heart, and when I got to the spot where I stopped to watch, I made sure to cheer loudly, even though I was by myself.

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just “Woowoo-ed!” a lot and clapped, and said platitudes like “Looking strong!” and “You got this!” I yelled “GO NAVY” to a guy with a Navy t-shirt on, which he liked. I found it interesting that every once in awhile, my voice really penetrated into someone’s running fog, and I got a smile, or a nod, or at the very least eye contact. I gave a lot of thumbs up, too. I tried really hard to think about what would annoy me if I was running. I figured I’d be annoyed if I needed to stop to walk, and someone yelled at me to keep going or something, so I just sort of clapped and made noise as those folks went by. I also didn’t lie, so I was only yelling “Looking strong” at people who looked strong. And I didn’t yell anything stupid, or try to make jokes, and I didn’t yell “You’re almost there!” because I am sure to people who were struggling it still felt like forever. That’s a lot of thought to put into cheering, I know, but I like to overthink things, it’s the hallmark of an engineer.

Watching a race is fascinating. Watching the different running gaits and postures of runners as they went by was interesting. Here are all these people going the same speed, and they are accomplishing it in wildly different ways. Wearing a wide variety of outfits. Most people wear standard running gear, a few wear costumes (I saw these guys!), some wear as little as possible, a few had no shoes on (one was CARRYING his shoes), and some even appear to be in street clothes. One guy was wearing a button-down short-sleeve plaid shirt. Another woman looked like she was out hiking and stumbled into the marathon, in what looked like camping shorts and a t-shirt. All that matters is it’s comfortable. And doesn’t make one’s nipples bleed, which several more traditional running shirts seemed to do to some poor men. This is preventable! Don’t let it happen to you! Towards zero bloody nipples!

My friend (whose daughters weren’t with her, they were at the Mile 15 aid station probably charming every runner they saw) met up with me a little after the 4:00 pacer passed me. She told me her husband was running with the 4:30 pace group, so we had plenty of time to cheer together before he came, and to chat. As she started to recognize some of the runners she’d seen along the course while she’d been waiting to meet up with him at other checkpoints, she started to get nervous, and we were on the lookout. We spotted SEVERAL decoys, including white people, women, and old men, all who were revealed as not him once they neared (apparently a blue shirt and black shorts is a VERY popular running kit). This made us laugh and kept her from worrying too much as the 4:30 pacer came and went and her husband still didn’t show up. We crossed the street since she said he was running on the other side of the pack. I HATE crossing in front of racers. I think it’s incredibly disrespectful, especially of someone who has run 24.5 miles already. I hated it in my high school sports days (along with varsity skiers skiing the nordic skiing racecourse backwards after they were done with their fast races and had nothing better to do while us peon JV losers plodded through our races), but sometimes a street must be crossed. We were very careful not to cut anyone off.

When we finally saw her husband, we started screaming and cheering for him so he could see us a block away. Her concern was for nothing, because even though he’d lost his pace group, he looked strong and happy and gave us a big smile and two thumbs up. He thanked me as he passed, which I thought was kind. He ended up finishing in 4:38, which I believe he was happy with. I am really glad I was able to cheer him on at the end. My friend actually had tickets to the bleachers at the finish line, but we weren’t sure we could make it there in time, so at least we were able to give him a final boost of energy as he finished.

Part of me felt more compelled to run this marathon, but part of me was a little weirded out. It’s just so many people. It did solidify my resolve to never run the half marathon of this course. If I had run the half (and not gotten swept from the course), I’d have been finishing long after people had lost interest in the race and were looking ahead to the leaders of the marathon. Plus, it starts way way way too early.

Maybe I could run the Grandma’s Double instead? Ha!

The Race Calendar

Well, I guess I have a race calendar, because I signed up for another race: the Be The Match Walk+Run, May 16th, in Minneapolis. (The link is to my fundraising site, for anyone compelled and able to donate. I am extremely uncomfortable asking for money, even when it isn’t for myself.)

My mom asked me to do this race awhile ago and I said no, because it is the day after finals end. Now I have to be down in the Twin Cities anyway for a rocketry competition the following week (I am cool), so I decided why the heck not. My sister-in-law used to work for the Be The Match Foundation, two members of my family have had successful bone marrow transplants, and I have lost a family member and friend to blood cancer. One might say that the Be The Match Foundation is close to my heart.

I am getting closer to pulling the trigger on the Grandma’s Marathon entry. Right now most marathon predictors say I would run just under 6 hours, which is a good sign, but that’s based on one 5K, so I’m not going to trust it. I’m going to go off my next few long runs. I will probably sign up for the Park Point 5 Miler in July, too, but I don’t want to pay for it yet.

I got an ad in my race packet for a 5K at the end of May. It’s called the Insane Inflatable 5K, and is some kind of obstacle course, but without mud, and involves lots of slides and climbing and things. Look, I am an adult. I do not need to run a race through a glorified ball pit, or through mud, or through blasts of colored powder. I can just run a race. It’s fine. The race is also obscenely expensive. It was $49 for early registration and goes all the way up to $75 on race day. So it’s $50-$75 to climb a bunch of blow-up obstacles covered in the sweat, spit, and snot (or worse) of fellow overgrown children? No, thank you.

I know that’s mean, and there are plenty of people out there who enjoy the novelty races, but I don’t see the point. Are these races motivating a significant number of people to exercise? If so, bring ’em on! I would hope my impression that novelty runs encourage undertrained people to go out and hurt themselves or get in my way is an erroneous impression.

It’s pretty easy to see how signing up for races can be addicting, and expensive. I am able to keep my excitement at bay simply by looking at some of the previous race results to see I’m not fast enough to run smaller races yet, and also by reminding myself I’m a student who works part time.

A Dream Postponed

My self-imposed deadline of March 31st has come and gone, but I haven’t made up my mind about Grandma’s Marathon yet. It’s fine, it costs $115 instead of $105 to enter, but I think of it like a stock option. It’s not quite analogous, but it works for me. There were 4 possible outcomes to my plan: enter before March 31st, pay $105, race; enter before March 31st, pay $105, DNS; enter after March 31st, pay $115, race; or enter after March 31st, pay $115, DNS. I would rather pay $10 more and be more certain about my ability to run the marathon, than save $10 and find that after 15 miles my body falls apart, or to find that I have so much work during the semester that I don’t have 5-6 hours to devote to those long runs. I will not go into this race undertrained.

Now I have until May 31st to decide if I want to compete (unless the race fills up). By that point I will have run 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20 mile long runs. That 20 mile run is going to be the deciding factor, I would guess. As of March 31st, my long run had been 9 miles, which I don’t think was a good enough gauge of my strength and endurance to justify spending $105.

I do have the Fitger’s 5K coming up next weekend, which will be my first real race in a long time, and the first one I’ve done with specific training since high school. (I did do timed runs in college for physical training requirements for the NROTC, so I guess they were kind of like races.) I am looking at the forecast and getting annoyed, although it does look like it might be nice again by next weekend, in time for the race. I need to run the route of the race at some point. I also need to try to get in at least one a.m. workout, because I tend to feel like complete garbage in the morning. I’m also probably going to have to get up at the buttcrack of dawn on the 11th in order to be functional. I hear the sunrises here are beautiful.

I do plan on racing the 5k, rather than running it at a training or even tempo pace, but I also don’t plan on sabotaging my training. I won’t be collapsing in a puddle of my own vomit at the finish line. I do have some time goals in mind. My B standard, let’s call it, is 40:00. My A standard is 36:00. If I finish under 30:00, I will sign up for the marathon right then and there. A sub-30 5k is HIGHLY unlikely, so don’t think I am actually gunning for it. Achieving 29:XX or under would indicate I am significantly underestimating my running ability, hence throwing down the cash for the marathon immediately. I am pretty sure I am only slightly underestimating my running ability, although who knows? Maybe the 5k takes me 48 minutes and I light fire to my running shoes and vow to never run again because I can’t even run 3 miles under my “slow run” training pace. Maybe the 5k takes me an hour because I miss a turn. I am prepared for all possible outcomes.

Week Six Update

Hey, week 6 went well! I’m pretty pumped to have had two training weeks in a row where I didn’t wuss out on anything. I have very low standards.

I am very glad today is a rest day, although once I started moving around today I felt a lot better than I thought I would. My hips are suffering the most. I need an oil can. My lower back is a little stiff too. My legs and feet feel fine.

Monday rest
Tuesday 4.4 miles, road, hill repeats included
Wednesday 5.2 miles, road
Thursday 3.5 miles, road + trail
Friday 4 miles, Lakewalk, medium tempo run
Saturday 4.2 miles, trail
Sunday 9 miles, Lakewalk
Total 30.3 miles!

Thursday I took another stab at Chester Creek, and while it wasn’t entirely runnable, it was passable enough. It was just what I needed since I was getting kind of crabby about running.

The view on the way:

Trees bent over the creek:

I love living here.

Saturday I went to Hartley Nature Center, intending to do my 9 miler. That didn’t happen. There was still snow and ice in spots, and I wasn’t wearing my chains, so I slid around a lot and fell on my butt once. It was not a good feeling, especially since I was already feeling crummy from my “speed” workout from Friday. In places it was so muddy I was slipping as badly as I was on the ice, and half of the trails were closed due to mud. I shudder to think what kind of condition they were in if the sloppy messes I was on were still open. So I conceded I wasn’t going to get the 9 miles done (I was going slow as heck anyway, ended up with a pace under 3 mph!) and got to 4.

Sunday I got out of bed late, took much longer than expected to do homework, and practically had to drag myself out the door thanks to rather depressing-looking weather. It turned out to be much warmer than I thought so I felt a little better about the impending run. I went to the Lakewalk because I knew it was about 4.5 miles round trip and it had easy access to my car and to a bathroom, so I could bail if things sucked horribly halfway through and I could get a quick bathroom break if needed.

The run itself went ok. My hips hurt (mildly) through a lot of it, which caused me to question if I am overdoing this training and need to rethink my marathon plans. Considering I don’t feel like total crap today, I am disregarding those thoughts. It rained a little bit, but only lightly, so it didn’t bother me. At times the wind was demoralizing. Running straight into gust after gust of wind was unpleasant.

I managed to keep my heart rate relatively low (mid 140s) for the first 5 miles, but it crept up during the last 4, probably due to fatigue and to wind. I managed to hold myself back from pushing it for most of the run. At the end I wanted to see if I had another gear (because I was doubting myself and doubting my ability to complete a marathon upright), but after a few strides I slowed down, reminding myself that I wouldn’t be finishing much faster and I would feel worse the next day or even hurt myself.

Here are my splits:

Those last 4 miles were fairly consistent (for me), which is a good sign. I have been having a tough time maintaining a consistent pace. The fifth mile is a bit of an outlier because I was running straight into the wind for about half a mile. (I know I said I don’t like to make excuses, but it’s only an excuse for why my pace was a little off the surrounding miles. It’s not an excuses for slowness. THEY ARE ALL SLOW SPLITS.)

This upcoming week includes a 12 mile long run, which will be a nice test. I hope that I can keep the pace in the mid 15s again. Right now the most important thing for me on long runs is consistency and endurance, and then I can just pray the hills and tempo runs will bring that consistent pace down. A solid plan!

Planning Ahead

For week 5 of the marathon training plan I’m following, the prescribed plan is: Monday rest, Tuesday 4 miles, Wednesday 5 miles, Thursday 4 miles, Friday 3 miles, Saturday 5 miles, Sunday 7 miles, total 28 miles. Since I am going out of town tomorrow (Thursday), I have had to shuffle the days around. I do plan on running while I am out of town (I’m just going to visit family and go to the NCHC hockey tournament), but I would rather shift the shorter runs to the days I’m in the Twin Cities and get more sleep and time with friends and family. There’s no way I could do a 7 mile run on Sunday either before or after getting in the car for 2.5 hours. I don’t want to do it before because I want to get home to my cats, and I don’t want to do it after, because who wants to run after a long drive?

I front-loaded my running schedule to accommodate my plans. I decided to move my rest day to… probably Saturday. I took it easy last Sunday with just a hike (note, a short hike is not a rest day. A rest day is a day of rest, not a day off running.), so I feel like I can handle the extra mileage.

Monday I ran 4 miles. I was originally going to take a rest day, as it was raining, but I got home from work and it wasn’t too cold, so I headed out, even though it was 7:00. I finished the run in the dark, which I hate (these sidewalks are treacherous with their various obstacles and I’m afraid I’ll trip), but there was daylight for most of it. I pushed a little more than normal and ran the whole way instead of walking the hills, so my heart rate was up a bit, but I felt good.

Tuesday I ran 7.9 miles. The extra 0.9 was insurance in case I need to shorten one of my later runs. I didn’t push the pace at all, but my heart rate was a little high thanks to an afternoon cup of coffee. I also discovered (or re-discovered) that Rice Lake Road doesn’t have any sidewalks. What is with this city and its lack of sidewalks? Annoying. The speed limit on Rice Lake Road is 40-45 mph, so I felt a little vulnerable. I tried running on the side of the road but it was difficult, as the ground was spongy and covered in matted-down tall grasses. It’s a shame because I liked the route, but I’m not sure I’d run it again. Maybe earlier in the day.

Tuesday night we drove around trying to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. We drove up Highway 61 along the lake and stopped at a few points, but didn’t see anything except stars. I’m not going to complain, the stars were gorgeous and standing on the lakeshore in the middle of the night is so peaceful, but there were some unbelievable photos from around the area of some spectacular displays, and I missed out. As we were driving along I thought about Grandma’s Marathon. I’ll potentially be running along that same road in a few months. And probably wishing I was dead already. Maybe. We also drove out to Park Point and got a bit of a glimpse, but nothing much. The lake was calm and there’s still plenty of ice built up along the shore, so it was oddly quiet on the beach. We didn’t stay long because the park was closed (and it’s a good thing we left because a police car was coming over the bridge as we were leaving the point, probably to kick people out of the park) and I was pretty chilled from the run earlier. Even with gloves my hands had been cold on the run and the chill spread through my whole body.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel today after a long run, but I actually feel amazing today. I thought my back and hips would be sore, but they aren’t. I decided last night I’d run the Lakewalk after work, and I packed workout gear in my backpack and everything, and then I forgot my running shoes. Sigh. I went home at lunch and got them, so the day is salvaged, but it was still a totally unnecessary stop. I wish I was a morning person.

On a completely unrelated note, I read this article, interviews with three people who recently set treadmill records: fastest 50k by a woman, longest distance in 12 hours on the treadmill, and fastest 50k by a man. The guy who ran the 50k missed the record by 47 seconds, so he ran it again 36 hours later and beat it. WHAT IS THE POINT? I would die of boredom.

Third Thoughts

I went for my first run in thirteen days today. A lot of things happened. It started off with some poor nutritional decisions that led to a dearth of sleep that led to dehydration that led to getting behind at work and in school. I’m sure someone could comb back through how I spent my time over the last couple weeks and point out times where I could have squeezed in a few miles here and there, but I don’t regret taking the time off from running.

I am on spring break as of 3 PM today (when I finished the second of two midterms on the docket for the day) and it is unseasonably warm here so I am thrilled to get back in my running shoes. Between the warm weather, the time change, and the overall longer days, I hope I can arrange my running schedule so I don’t have to run on the treadmill at all (unless it is raining or it gets cold again, which I am sure it will).

I previously said I had second thoughts about my heart rate training plan. It was getting too frustrating; I was tired of being out in the cold so long and struggling to keep my heart rate down because I was cold, which slowed me down and kept me out in the cold longer, and so on. Well, it’s warm now.

I ran 6.4 miles today, which was not the smartest training decision ever. I mean, it was fine, I felt good, but I am sure ramping my mileage back up is a stupid decision and could lead to injury. Since I’m not pushing the pace and I’m using a run-walk method to keep my heart rate down when going uphill, I am not too worried about it.

For the first five miles, I ran the same route I did on my last run. On that run, it was 25 degrees but the wind was awful and cold. Today, it was around 46 but the wind was mild. Comparing the two:

Mile 1
2/28: 15:24, 160 bpm
3/1: 15:00, 151 bpm

Mile 2
2/28: 18:24, 148 bpm
3/1: 17:36, 147 bpm

Mile 3
2/28: 17:55, 146 bpm
3/1: 17:16, 142 bpm

Mile 4
2/28: 19:14, 148 bpm
3/1: 18:08, 143 bpm

Mile 5
2/28: 15:55, 145 bpm
3/1: 15:09, 143 bpm

So after 13 days off, I’m able to run the same course 45 seconds faster (on average) than I did the previous time. This tells me I haven’t lost much fitness (or didn’t have much to lose), and it also tells me that the weather had a significant effect on my heart rate and pace. I should be back on track with marathon training starting next week, and I’m going to try to get some decent mileage this weekend so my weekly mileage isn’t too far off where it should be. The dream of Grandma’s Marathon isn’t dead!