Twin Cities Marathon 2014

 by Bill Durbin, re-posted from the Team Rogue PM Blog

Well, I gave myself a week to write this one, because the last one just took way too long. I started writing in the same second-person-present voice I was (attempting) to use in the past few posts. It’s kind of half “the story” written that way, and half just me interjecting random stuff. It’s a little disjointed, but less long-winded that usual. If you go for this kind of stuff then read on. If not… well, do whatever the opposite of reading on would be. Read off?

Before
It’s a crisp, cool, dry morning. Perfect running weather. In fact, all the usual things that nobody ever has any control over seem to be going perfect today.

The start line is up ahead, and everyone is loosely corralled by their bib numbers. It’s light out. It’s nice to be able to see everything. Usually, these things start just a tad darker. Brent is standing on a gate looking for Ashish, who in turn is looking for a last-minute bathroom break. Taryn and Cam are nearby. One last round of good-race-mojo encouragement as the announcer gives a 3-minute warning, ramps up the energy, and crowd close to the start.

The nerves never go away until you get to the other side of that line. You can’t help bouncing around a bit. Those three minutes seem to pass in just a few seconds, and then the race begins. The kickoff music turns out to not be Prince after all… Instead it’s that dynamite song.

For a couple seconds I was disappointed that my Prince-music prediction didn’t come true. I half expected him to come tearing around the corner on a purple motorcycle with a starter pistol. A guy can hope, can’t he? But then I had an image of my daughter Penelope singing the dynamite song and it made me smile (I don’t actually know the name of the dynamite song, I assume it is ‘Dynamite’ though).

TRPM Twin Cities Runners (and special guest!) before all the stuff above.
Photo ©2014, Ashish. Used without permission.

Easy on the Front
Crossing the line, it’s a little over a minute behind the gun and that glorious race-start calm descends. You’re no longer thinking about what you have to do – now you’re doing it. That changes the whole situation.

The first task is to run easy. Don’t get carried away. Amy has said it a million times, Steve reiterated it on Thursday, you’ve repeated it to yourself over and over again… DFIU in these first few miles. Starting further back turns out to be a good thing as far as that’s concerned. The road is wide here, but the crowd is pretty thick. There’s not much point in weaving around people. Just wait for the gaps and shoot through. The first mile is over before you know it – a quick sanity check on the time – close to seven minutes… Good. Mile 2 requires a bit more focus to stay on target. You pass Ashish and exchange some encouraging words. The miles start flying by… 3, 4, 5… Almost time for the first real checkpoint.

Mile 6. 41 minutes even. One minute behind target. That’s about right.

It felt like I did an awful lot of watch-gazing during this race. I made the mistake (???) of picking a goal time with some super easy-to-remember intervals. 20 minutes for every 3 miles. And at most of those 3 mile intervals, right at the marker, I was checking to see where I was at. Quite a different feeling from my previous race.

Now it’s time to really start focusing on getting light and efficient as possible. The watch is already reading a little extra mileage. It’s been a bit more crowded than expected. You’ve been doing an ok job of running the tangents, but with so many people you can’t really do it without cutting people off or getting pinched in a corner. You’re gaining on a group that must be the 3:00 pace group. They are packed four or five people deep and taking up the whole road. When you see that the sign says 3:05 it’s startling. They have to be going way too fast!

It isn’t until I did the math afterwards that I realized, if these guys started near the front then they were probably on an exact even split. I think that is what they are told to do.

The next thought is “How am I going to get around all this?” The road is very curvy through this section, and it is obvious the pack has the tangents on their mind as well. The runners on the edges are having to slow down each time the road curves their way. “Do I try to worm my way through the middle, or wait for a straight stretch? When even is the next straight stretch? You realize you have no idea where you are or what comes next on the map.

That’s not entirely true. I was somewhere south of and/or still in Minneapolis. I knew that much.

You studied the course so well preparing for this day and it’s just been a blur of twists and turns since leaving the city. You haven’t even been paying attention to the corners. It’s billed as the most beautiful urban Marathon in the country, or something like that. That might be true, but ever since leaving the city streets a few miles back not a single building, lake, or street sign has registered in your mind. All you see is road, trees, runners, more road, more trees, and more runners. Apparently, some of these houses along the course are amazing, but…

FWIW, I thought Philly was more interesting. Then again, I wasn’t really at either location to appreciate the scenery.

You are hugging a left-hand corner when the choice becomes obvious. The road curves in a big arc to the right and the pack goes with it, leaving a few feet of open pavement to their left. It’s an extra wide corner, but by the time the road turns left again, you’re ahead – they are behind.

Steady and Strong
It’s like the pace group was a cork in a very twisty-necked bottle. Everything has thinned out and now it’s road, trees, and spectators. Lots and lots of spectators. Good ones at that. They aren’t saying stupid things like “only 19 more miles!” They’re giving words of encouragement in vaguely-stereotypical regional accents. “Goh Red!” “Way te goh Rogue Running! Lookin’ strong there!”

I never heard any ‘You betcha’s, but of course the situation didn’t warrant any. Again, I wasn’t really looking around much, but I do remember one sign that amused me.

It is finally possible to run straight from one corner to the next and hug the insides. You establish a comfortable pace that feels about right and just settle in.

There’s a familiar shock of blond hair up ahead. It looks like it might belong to Kirk, a fellow Rogue, and he’s running strong. You aren’t actually sure he knows who you are, but you say “Hey Kirk” and utter some encouraging words as you sidle up to him. If it turns or to be a stranger, no harm done. But it’s him. The conversation is brief, but the familiar face is welcome.

A few more miles slip by. You pass the 13 mile marker and the timing mat for the halfway point is just ahead. Everything still feels ok – smooth, relaxed, light… but now its time for that check-in.

The watch says 1:27:58. It’s pretty close to where you expected to be at the half – you’ve gained about 30 seconds and you still have about 30 to make up. Really, that’s perfect. But then the math starts messing with you.

Running math is hard, and Marathon math is damn near impossible. But there is one math problem that’s simple to do at this point in the race: multiply by two. I don’t know a single Marathon runner who doesn’t do that math problem at the halfway point – Everyone is thinking “If I run the second half exactly the same as the first half…”

Well, ok.. I’ve never actually asked another Marathon runner if they do that math problem. It’s just… come on! Everyone really does this, right?

The other you (I) obviously got off on a tangent there. You were saying that the math started messing with you… “Wait… That’s like 1:28, and 1:28 times two is 2:56, and that means it’s still a minute to make up? Right?”

It takes enormous willpower to keep the mental train on the rails. There is no room in your brain right now to reason it out and identify why it is wrong. It just is. You just have to trust that, and banish the demon. You yell the expanded and uncensored version of “JFR!” at nobody in particular, and it seems to do the trick. 28 seconds. That is the right answer, and if it isn’t the right answer, we’ll find out soon enough.

I didn’t actually yell that. Not out loud. I might have muttered it under my breath, but I was screaming it in my head. That’s what counts.

Maintain
The 15 mile marker is coming up soon, and it’s almost time for another gel. The problem is, you really, really don’t want one. Really. Everything else feels great right now, except your stomach. You pull out your remaining selection of Gu and take stock of what’s there. Vanilla Bean, Salted Caramel, and Salted Watermelon. Yuck. Just looking at them makes your stomach roll.

Most gels taste pretty nasty to me. Vanilla is kind of the base option that seems to be the lesser of all evils. It is the “natural” Gu flavor… If you were to actually go out in the wild and find a guberry bush, and pick a bunch of fresh guberries and mash them up into a paste, that’s what they would taste like. All the other flavors are just trying to mask the guberry-ness. But you can’t ever really mask it. 

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, not only do they taste kind gross, but it usually gets more difficult for me to stomach them as the miles get longer. However, the two “salted” options actually invert this fundamental law of Gu, and seem to taste pretty decent once I’m tired enough. They are both pretty much just guberry plus salt before you get going though.

And (no, I’m not done with this aside yet… hang on) I don’t know what was going on with my stomach. This wasn’t even my last scheduled gel, and it wasn’t so late in the race that I should be feeling so hostile towards the little packets of vile. Maybe the pasta at dinner had something to do with it? I normally go more for veggies and protein the night before a race. It’s something to think about next time – maybe try a few new dinner options in the shorter races this fall and winter. Enough of the note-to-future-self…

You put your gels away and vow to revisit the decision somewhere before the next water station. A couple miles later, and it’s been decided that salted caramel actually sounds pretty good right now. You dig in your gel pouch and pull out vanilla bean. Nope… return that one and grab one of the others – salted watermelon. Dammit! Keep that one in your hand and grab the others from the pouch to see them all at once… Wait.. there’s only two in here! Crap! I must have dropped the other one! Watermelon is the choice – probably because it has “salted” in the name. You must not be tired enough. It tastes disgusting.

I didn’t drop it. My race brain must have decided it was special or something. Apparently I went through the trouble of tucking it into the back zipper pocket on my shorts and zipping it up when I put them all away at mile 15. I don’t remember doing that at all. I was already back at the hotel and showered when I found it there.

It’s not so much your stomach objecting to the Gu now – your brain simply does not want the guberry-watermelon-flavored gunk. That first taste brought a shudder. You just hang onto the rest until the water tables appear up ahead. The blue and red cups at each station have some Powerade concoction that you’ve been avoiding like the plague all race, and now is no exception. You want water. This stop, however, obviously didn’t get the memo on the cup-color-codedness and flags thing. The water has been in the white cups after the Powerade and after the blue “water” flags at every station so far. The first white cup you grab is full of a Windex-colored substance that isn’t water. You drop it and grab for a real water, wash down the remaining Gu, and feel a little better.

I realize it sounds like I am complaining about the water station. I’m really not. I completely appreciate all the volunteers that come out and make these events happen. I thank them when I’m passing the tables whether I am getting something or not.

Mile 18 – you take a quick survey and see how everything is holding up.

Of course, it was a 3-mile interval so I looked at my watch, too. I don’t remember my split at this one though.

Still have the hat, gloves, and makeshift arm-warmers. Hands are icicles but arms, head and everything else is doing ok. The arm warmers (old socks with holes in them) are kind of wet and bunching up in the crook of your arms though. You decide to take them off. They decide to stay on. Pulling on them from the bottom isn’t working. You start to roll the left one down from the top, but it just gets stuck at your elbow. You have a sudden fear that it is going to get snagged on your watch and then just flap around, dangling off the end of your arm for the rest of the race. You win this time, silly am socks. As for the hat…

The Almost Last Part
The scenery is still just whizzing by, oblivious to you standing there. Or maybe it’s the other way around. But there’s one landmark you’ve been waiting for – the bridge over the river. Because Gabe said he’d be somewhere after that bridge on the left-hand side of the course. It’s also a mental thing. It is the place to start thinking strong thoughts.

You can hear Gabe before you know it’s him. He’s ringing his cowbells and cheering on the runner up ahead in the green shirt. He’s by far the loudest spectator you’ve seen on the course, but when he sees you his eyes get wide and he turns up the volume even louder. As you planned (just a few minutes ago), you grab your hat and toss it straight up in the air. Except… it doesn’t go straight up, it goes straight at Gabe! Oops!

I wasn’t the only person to throw clothing at Gabe this day. It sounds like he turned into quite the coat rack. But I wasn’t exaggerating when describing how loud he was. Maybe it was just amplified by the personal connection. Who knows. At any rate, seeing Gabe there definitely gave me a boost. And he kept my hat and returned it! Gabe deserves some special credit thanks. He was supposed to be out there running the race alongside us, but he was sidelined with an injury. That didn’t stop him from coming out and freezing his butt off to cheer the rest of us on. 

Gabe and I. Believe it or not, I stopped and had a beer with him there between mile 19 and 20.

At mile 21 another time check, and you’re only 14 seconds off target! Slowly but surely whittling away at that remaining time. You’re actually going to make it!

The Part Between “The Almost Last Part” And “The Last Part”
There are conflicting reports about the hill. The monster one on the map that looks like it just keeps going up from about the middle of Mile 21 to the end of mile 23. There have been a few short but steep hills sprinkled throughout the course. Ones that made you think a little. But none of those even registered on the elevation map. There’s a short and steep part at the beginning of “the hill” as well. That one really is a bit of a challenge, especially at this point in the course. Once past that, you discover that for the rest of these miles there really is no hill.

Ok… so there may or may not have been a hill. My mind was reading that whole section as being too flat to care. Others felt differently. And my splits indicate that yes, there is a hill there. Perhaps it just has something to do with your mental state. My mental state was still stuck on “I’m actually going to make it!” and I was pushing myself pretty hard.

The miles are beginning to feel very, very long. It’s that weird end-of-race twilight zone where everything starts to happen in slow motion, probably because everything hurts so much. You have started questioning your motives for pretty much everything, but especially for this race. You’re thinking of cancelling the next one on your calendar.

“GO ROGUE!” The shout comes from behind. You haven’t heard anyone say that today… that is not a cheer from here. That is someone from Austin, and that shout was for you. A quick glance over your shoulder, and it’s Steve and Ruth! More familiar faces are exactly what you needed at that moment. Despite the pain and mental issues, you are still running strong, and now you are determined to finish that way.

The Last Part (Except For The Part(s) After The Last Part)
The mile 24 marker kind of rains on your little “finish strong” parade. You’re expecting to see that you’ve knocked more time out, or maybe, just maybe you’re even ahead of the game now. But it says 2:40:23. Hrm.

This was tough, because I was completely convinced I had sped up since mile 21 and was going significantly faster than my goal pace. I was working really, really hard at this point, and I did not have a whole lot left to give.

Hang on. Hang ON! You’re so close! Just be strong and finish it! On the edge, yes, but not falling apart. Past mile 25 now (FIVE LAPS!)… past that subtle left turn in the road…

You keep waiting to see the church. The church (so it’s been written) is what signals the imminent end of this race. And, like the museum at the end of Philly, it supposedly sneaks up on you. Looking for the church, looking, looking… and there’s the Capitol building off in the distance. But the capitol is like… past the end of the course. Isn’t it? Wait – maybe that’s not the capitol. Maybe that’s the church? You turn to look over your left shoulder and Oh, no… that’s the church!

It’s pretty obvious that my brain is scrambled eggs and toast.

Your head swivels back to the front and now, you can see the capitol, the 26 mile marker, and the finish line! Glancing at the watch again it’s at exactly 2:53.

Two minutes. I can make it there in two minutes.

The Marathon is a funny race. It beats the crap out of you physically and mentally. It takes you right to the edge. Then if you are lucky, it will nudge you over the edge and show you something amazing there. I was lucky this time. I got nudged. All of the pain vanished at this point and I had one purpose. Get to that finish line in two minutes! As I can now see from the data my watch collected, the finish line was about 1/3rd of a mile away at this point.

Time is going fast again. It doesn’t feel like two minutes. You’re at the finish line with your hands in the air. You eventually stop running, then stop your watch and take a look to see where you landed.

The Aftermath
This is the first time I’ve ever laughed at the end of a Marathon. I laughed and laughed, and someone handed me a medal, and I laughed some more. When the woman with the space blanket came over to me, she said “You seem like you had a good race!” Like a dork, I showed her my watch and said “That was my goal, right there!” And I started thanking her and all the other people who were handing me the post-race stuff.

Somewhere in there, I shed a few tears. Maybe it’s the first time I laughed at the end of a race, but it’s not the first time for the waterworks. I’m already kind of an emotional guy. Then I put myself into a situation where I’m mentally and physically exhausted, I just finished doing something I wasn’t completely convinced I could do… the faucet comes on.

I retrieved my dry bag and futzed with it for a couple minutes. I couldn’t get it open because my fingers were frozen, numb, and basically useless. Finally I used my teeth to rip a hole in the bag so I could get at my junk. I donned some warmer clothes, found my phone and tried to call Stephanie. I knew they were going to be out, so I left a message. Decided to try the other phone too, and left another message.

I saw Cam, Brent and Flashish then. (That’s not a typo, it’s his new nickname.) We all exchanged some congratulations and they went to grab their bags. I called coach Amy. She said we were rock stars, and told me my official time was 2:54:56! And then I started to choke up again.

The Bragging and Thanking Section
The stuff up there was fun and all, but I need to get my brag on. Of course, I also need to say the obvious thanks to my wife for putting up with this running thing once again and still supporting me (as usual), my coach for believing I could do this before I ever did (as usual), and the Team Rogue PM crew for allowing me to suffer alongside them through the steamy summer (we’re all unusual, so I won’t say “as usual”).  Did I mention Steve and Ruth? and GABE? Friendly spectators? Thank you!

You all can leave now. I’m just going to do my normal little victory lap and be done with this one.

Time: 2:54:56  (3:41 PR!)

Placing:
Everyone, 164 / 8852
Age group, 16 / 707

Official half splits:
First, 1:27:57
Second, 1:26:59 (that’s an unofficial half marathon PR!)

Geekometer Splits:
1.   6:56
2.   6:59
3.   6:38
4.   6:39
5.   6:44
6.   6:40
7.   6:39
8.   6:35
9.   6:36
10.   6:33
11.   6:31
12.   6:31
13.   6:37
14.   6:36
15.   6:31
16.   6:34
17.   6:39
18.   6:44
19.   6:39
20.   6:29 <- Gabe
21.   6:36
22.   6:46
23.   6:46
24.   6:30 <- Steve + Ruth
25.   6:42
26.   6:42
26.36 2:08 <- Me

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