2019: Grandma’s Marathon

I have known about this event for many years now (it, in 2011, was my buddy Nils‘ first marathon). Every time I drove to or through Duluth since getting into running, a part of me had fantasized about participating in this event. On my way home from LindaMark I Do festivities in 2016, I had driven most of the course and checked out the starting area in Two Harbors. After some thought and almost putting it off for one more year, I decided to sign up for this year’s edition primarily as a backup for 2019 Whitefish Point Marathon. If, for some reason (e.g., inclement health or weather), things didn’t unfurl as planned in Paradise, MI, then I would have had two weeks to rest, recover, re-group and give it another try again. Though far from achieving any of my time goals, Whitefish Point Marathon was more rewarding than I had anticipated.

When looking at the splits and projected finish times in Paradise, it felt like a combination of two runs: hard-ish 16-18 miler followed immediately by a relatively easier 8-10 miler. The latter portion had likely played its role in ensuring that I wasn’t as fully spent as I had expected. I took the following week easy – couple days of complete rest and then all easy runs, all but one. One of exercise physiology articles had indicated that, much like delayed onset of fatigue after a hard training/race day, human body might arrive at its peak performance condition a bit later than expected at the end of regularly scheduled taper period. Moreover, as the days got closer, the long-term forecast for Two Harbors – Duluth region went from the usual rainy and/or warm to blessedly pleasant. Taking all this into account and since the next training cycle wouldn’t begin for another two weeks, I thought I’d

  1. treat it as a backup race, and re-learn the value of crowd support and formal pacers.
  2. pursue the modified time goals I had in mind in Paradise, MI, and improve upon my best time – 3:35:46 (8:14 min/mile and 7.29 mph) – from 2019 Illinois Marathon.
  3. practice the usual things:
    1. Do not repeat the mistakes.
    2. Retain the lessons from previous events.
    3. Learn more about and get better at running, pacing and racing.

With packing completed two nights ago and a shakeout run (sounds cooler than last easy jog, doesn’t it?) a history before 7:30 am, I left Houghton shortly after 9 am on Friday. The uneventful drive, accompanied by Weapons of Math Destruction, included a pit stop at one of the ABCs ((Ashland Baking Company, Black Cat Coffeehouse and Chequamegon Food Co-op) of Ashland, WI, and took me to Duluth, MN, by 1 pm (Minnesota time). Following the instructions from the race organizers, it gave the opportunity to pick up my race packet well before 3 pm and beat the rush hours. I met Lisa and Ryan at Grandma’s Saloon & Grill, and then, Ryan and I checked ourselves into the AirBnB accommodation … nestled a few short miles away in a quiet and quaint neighborhood.

Based on my notes from the last three events of this distance, I opted skip the customary pasta to stick with a burrito (with rice, beans, etc.) and avocado for my meal the night before the event. I had known and eaten at a few places in Duluth (Burrito Union, Duluth Grill and Fitger’s) that cater to my needs. After a quick review, I picked up a combination of Vegan Socialist and Happy Worker from the Burrito Union to go and had it at the expo with Lisa, Ryan and few hundred other folks. Nightfall came early around 8:30 pm local time.

I woke up on my own around 2 am. Though fully rested, the next 90 minutes or so were a good exercise in keeping my mind from wandering towards thoughts unrelated to running/racing. Getting ready and being out through the door by 4:30 am was a breeze and took little effort. We (Ryan and I) waited in line with many other cars for quite some time to gain an entry into the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) parking region. Noticing that the line hadn’t moved much in about 15 minutes and that it’d take lot longer than another 20-30 minutes before we could park, we called an audible and found a public parking lot within a short walk/jog.

Doing so got us aboard the train (yes, a train) with an assortment of unique cabins from all around the country- a courtesy of North Shore Scenic Railroad. As advertised by the organizers, it offered a little more room to stretch the legs and more importantly, restrooms along the way … saving time/anxiety to find one near start line. Given the relative remoteness of Two Harbors area, the logistical arrangements were nearly flawless in the starting area. Though the timing was off by a few minutes, it was my first time witnessing a fly over – likely a courtesy of the 148th Fighter Wing – before the start of any running/skiing event!

26.22 mi, 3:46:16, 8:38 min/mile (5:21 min/km), 6.95 mph (11.18 kmph)
Garmin Forerunner 935 and Tempe Sensor, Stryd Power Meter, and WP GPX Maps Plugin

Usage: php wp_extract-race-analytics-lap-by-lap.php event_unit DISTANCE GOAL_TIME EVENT_TIME CSV

For reasons that I didn’t know, the event start was delayed by nearly 15 minutes. I had found a good place in the crowded starting chute … a few heads behind the 3:20 pacer. The first several miles seemed to clip away with ease. As and when the course rose up, Lake Superior graciously sent in a gentle breeze to keep the runners cool. Using either side of the road for two miles at a time helped prevent any camber-induced foot pain. Taking everything that I had (and hadn’t) done over the past 24 weeks, a potential finish time of 3:15-3:25 seemed within reach. Continuing to run a few heads behind the 3:20 pacer, all the goals I had in mind for this event felt achievable as well through mile #18. These, in spite of having long-sh conversations with fellow runners, turned out to be the fastest and the most consistent splits I’ve ever run for any distance with a sub-8:00 min/mile pace.

As the table above clearly shows, the wheels came off in a hurry shortly after mile #18. With varying levels of dizziness hovering around through mile 23, thoughts of taking a DNF (and/or at least a nap on the grassy sidewalks) crossed my mind several times. I don’t have any shame admitting that I cried a little at my inability to run even on downhills over the last 3-4 miles. Punctuated with plenty walks, and aided by fresh strawberries and and self-talks and those of that were passing me in bunches on either side, I crossed the finish line at 3:46:16 (1894/6360 overall, 1256/3405 in gender and 203/499 in AG). My time was well above the event’s average finish time of 4:18:38 but a far cry from 3:20:xx that had seemed with reach.

Goals (in order of importance) and their status
01 Finish below 3:19:59 (minimum: 7:38 min/mile, 7.86 mph) No
02 Finish below 3:24:59 (minimum: 7:49 min/mile, 7.68 mph) No
03 Finish below 3:29:59 (minimum: 8:01 min/mile, 7.48 mph) No
04 Finish below 3:34:59 (minimum: 8:12 min/mile, 7.32 mph) No
05 Finish below 3:35:46 (minimum: 8:14 min/mile, 7.29 mph) and earn a PR No

As for the event itself, the organizers seemed to have just about every aspect down to a science. Multiple modes of mass transportation to the start line, excellent pacers, aid stations with a variety of support every two miles starting mile #3, similarly stocked aid stations every mile starting mile #20, short but vociferous scream tunnels formed by spectators at regular intervals and a finished chute that included a changing tent as well as clearly marked reuniting area … were all a very nice touch and made for a really neat experience.

Shortly after crossing the finish line, I met up with Lisa and Ryan (Ryan made his marathon debut with a blistering 2:29:13 finish!), and we all got a bite to eat at the Duluth Grill. Shortly afterwards, Ryan and I checked out of our AirBnB. While Lisa and Ryan headed to Houghton, I went slightly westward – to spend some time with my good ole friends – Abby and Justin, and their little ones, Henrik and Axel – in Grand Rapids, MN. I hadn’t seen them in quite some time and it was nice to catch up (and who am I kidding, eat the delicious taco dip that Abby made). The return journey home on Sunday, apart from stops to get fuel and occasionally stretch my legs, was uneventful.


Unlike during my training for 2018 Chicago Marathon, the training cycle leading up to Grandma’s Marathon mostly lacked the progression to race pace and beyond during LSD runs. The number of speed and tempo workouts was also minimal. A little too much experience from other aspects of life had time and again taught me that it’s often improbable to get the desired ROI even after doing everything right. And knowing, from similar life experiences, that going for broke often has the potential for breaking things, I wasn’t at all surprised about the sufferfest during miles 19-26 – especially since it’s something that I didn’t make time or effort to consciously train for.

A year ago, I’d have easily kissed anyone’s feet that saw a 3:46:16 finish in me and gladly taken it – sufferfest or not. Sitting on nearly 800 miles of mostly easy run base in 2019 (compared to just 175 around this time last year), I feel like there has been a considerable amount of progress so far. New PRs were earned for

  1. 5 km in Thatcher Markham Memorial Run at 0:20:32 (6:36 min/mile)
  2. 10 miles in Grandma’s at 1:15:21 (7:32 min/mile)
  3. 13.1 miles in Grandma’s at 1:38:50 (7:32 min/mile)

With Summer-like weather finally here to stay in our part of the universe and being surrounded by mentors who are willing to coach me (from very near, near, far and very far), my subsequent attempt to improve my performance at the end of the next training cycle that specifically focuses on form, speed and endurance will be fun and exciting.

Thanks be to

the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timers, law enforcement officials, photographers, fellow participants and spectators), and the family of good friends in and outside of my community for all the unexpected, undeserved and unrewarded acts of kindness and constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as a human and an athlete. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable experiences with me, who helped keep my mind, body and soul in good health, who helped me stay the course during the training cycle, who continued to teach me the value of work-life balance, and who cheered me on from home or along the course.

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