Well, it's taken me almost a month, but I've finally put together a recap of my experience at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 3, 2010. A PR and my first BQ. Here's my official Twin Cities race report.
As you might recall, I found out there was no pace group for my BQ time, so my choices were to run on my own, to go with a pace group aiming for 5 minutes faster and then slowing or to go with a pace group aiming for 5 minutes too slow and hoping to negative split it. I thought I'd decided on option 2, but then I wasn't sure.
At the last minute, I'd decided to hang near the "5 minutes too fast" pace group through mile 20, then let them slip away and cruise in within the minute of BQ cushion or under. But not too far under b/c I knew I wanted to get back to running fairly quickly and not kill myself to have to deal with a long recovery. And it worked. I came out with a finish time that was a couple minutes faster than I needed, but not crazy fast, which made me happy because I followed my plan basically.
My overwhelming impression of the course was that it had the most crowd support of any marathon I’ve ever done except possibly NY (which I think exceeds Chicago by a tiny bit). There were people throughout the course, often several rows deep. I was very happy with it, and while I’m not likely to repeat any marathon involving travel (too many others I’d like to try), I’d highly recommend this one to others looking for a good race. I also was very impressed with the pre-race plan -- good shuttles and indoor waiting area (which is the gold standard for me in a race with the potential for cold weather).
I got up and went downstairs to be with my hubby when he met my mom. They were doing the 10 mile race and that started an hour earlier than our race. That meant I had the room to myself to get ready. I'd laid everything out, so the process was kind of smooth, but it was nice not to have to worry about anyone else. There was a shuttle to the start line from my hotel and I heard a bit about how it worked when hubby and mom were heading for it. I made my big last minute decision -- whether to wear old socks as arm warmers and pitch them, or whether to wear my good arm warmers and either wear them the whole time (bunched around my wrists or half tucked in my shorts if it got hot) or hopefully find my cousin's boyfriend around mile 7 and throw them to him. I opted for the good arm warmers thinking I'd probably wear them the whole time, but liking the idea of having the option to get them to him.
The only glitch in my plan was my pre-race breakfast. There are a few big difficulties with training for a marathon based on conventional wisdom. They always tell you not to wear anything new on race day. But hello, it's in the mid-80s at 5:30 a.m. in Dallas in July (and August, and September...) so there is no way I can practice my race day outfit for the cold weather I'd expect in Minnesota in October. The other issue is that I get up to run at 5:30, primarily because of the heat but also so I still have the day. Well, unless I want to get up at 3:30 and just hang around the house, it's not possible to mimic pre-race eating exactly since I am going to be awake and in transit for much longer on race morning than before a training run.
At home, I eat a packet of instant oatmeal before I do a long run. I eat it at about 5:05 and am running at 5:30. At home, I eat a granola bar before I do weekday morning exercise. I eat that at about 5:10 and am working out by 5:15 or 5:30. No stomach issues with either, at least not with any regularity.
Then what to do for a race that starts at 8, when I'm planning to be on a shuttle bus at 6:30 and then waiting until the start at someplace with no microwave? I decided to make my oatmeal in a cup (which I've done for almost every marathon I've done on the road) and eat it on the way. This time I decided to also eat a granola bar shortly before the start. Well, I took my cup and packet of oatmeal down to the lobby to use the hot water thing. But no hot water thing. Most hotels that are shuttle bases and have tons of runners (at least in most other cities) have some kind of a pre-race breakfast available -- a spread of bagels, fruit, coffee, etc. and I thought I could use the hot water there. But nothing at our hotel. I went back up to the room and reluctantly used our in-room coffee pot to heat the water. I hate coffee-flavored water, but it worked.
Mental note: my race packing list isn't perfect, despite many uses. Need to add a spoon to the list, as long as I'm bringing oatmeal.
I took my oatmeal with me and headed out for the buses. Not a long wait at all, and the drive was fairly short and the drop-off smooth. I sat next to a guy who'd run a lot of the same races I had but always ran MTCM because it was in his backyard. He agreed with my plan about going with the 5 minutes fast pace group based on this course. He'd run Boston but had never qualified at MTCM.
Got to the Metrodome and went inside. It was cold out, but not crazy cold. Adam and I had planned to meet at the doors to gate B. I entered at C and walked in the direction I thought would get me to B. I ended up at A. Walked back to C. WTF? I was on vacation in 2003 to visit Adam when he was living in Germany and we'd planned to meet at track 4 in the Munchen train station at a designated time, but there was no track 4 and it was all screwed up. Chaos. I was worried we were in for more of the same. But then I saw someone head downstairs. I'd guessed it was just more restrooms, but gave it a shot. Sure enough, gate B was on the bottom level so I took a seat near the doors and within a few minutes Adam and his girlfriend found me and sat down. Coincidentally, we found my other cousin's husband and he also sat with us until the start.
We eventually headed out, but it was actually a little too late. We got to the start corral and it was crowded. We were weaving forward and got to about the 4:30 pace group. I wanted to go further up but Adam's girlfriend and my cousin's husband didn't. I think Adam would have, but we'd already agreed that we were each going to run our own race. I hopped the fence and walked forward to my "5 mins fast" pace group and tried to find my Dallas weekend coach. No luck. Hopped the fence there and got close to the group and then waited for the start. Didn't have to wait long. There were only 2 corrals (a negative to the race in my mind), but wave 1 went, and then they released us a few minutes later.
I met a kid during mile 1 (Patrick) and we fell into step and conversation together quickly. His first marathon, 19 yrs old, former XC runner in HS, going to “the Fighting Sioux” school in a Dakota state, wants to be an elementary school teacher. We got slightly out in front of the 5 minutes fast pace group (which was okay because it was very crowded right next to or behind them), but generally tried to stay in sight of them. Patrick had way too much energy and was smiling constantly, talking about people who inspired him (I remember him pointing specifically at a barefoot runner and at a guy wearing a 70-74 age bracket on his shirt). There was tons to talk about, from races to college to travel to families (his sister lives in Texas). We were going too fast, but it felt like a training run and neither of us minded. He was aiming for my "5 minutes too fast" time, which struck me as crazy good for a first marathon, but he certainly seemed capable of it and seemed very happy to have me near him going at the right pace to keep him from going too fast.
My weekend pace coach sent me a you-tube link where you could see Patrick and I running at about mile 7.5. The bad part is, if you keep watching the video, you can see that we’re almost 1 minute ahead of the "5 minutes too fast" pace group. I think later in the race that Patrick and I both paid for being too fast early on, but I actually was pretty happy that we weren't ever way too far in front. It was so great to have enjoyable company for so much of the race. We ran and talked and marvelled in the crowd support. I told Patrick the bar for crowd support was going to be high for his next marathon! Around mile 12.5, a loud group of people talking were near us. The loudest and most irritating, a guy called Sam, said that they were "locked in" my "5 minutes too fast" time and that the official pacer for that group was running too slowly. He said they had about a 1 minute cushion. And then 1:05, and then 1:00, and then :55, and then 1:05. We ran near them for a while, but by about the halfway mark, Sam was getting on Patrick's nerves and so Patrick kind of went ahead, while I fell slightly behind. That was the last I’d see of Patrick until we friended on facebook after the race.
I ran solo but near Sam and his crew (the poor souls who likely had to train with this guy) for about 6 more miles, maybe longer. I had decided to put my name on my shirt b/c I'd heard there was a lot of crowd support. Unfortunately, that meant no walking for me toward the end because there were just too many people yelling my name. And also unfortunately, I didn't tell my family NOT to yell my name, but to yell my last name instead, so when my brother and his fiancée said they were right near me at mile 15 and were screaming my name like crazy, it didn't even register – I couldn’t differentiate between their cheers and those of everyone else. Same thing with family cheering near the finish line.
I did see my cousin’s boyfriend around mile 7 and I threw my arm warmers and ear band at him, but I'd pulled them off/down around mile 6 just to make sure I could pitch them and I was looking desperately for him during the race b/c I really didn't want to be stuck with that stuff for the whole race. The crowds were very deep around the lakes, so I was searching faces for more than a mile, but I found him. And we saw Patrick’s parents around mile 8, but except cousin's boyfriend at 7 and then at mile 19, I didn’t see anyone I knew during the entire race.
Anyway, right around 19, the course crosses a bridge onto the St. Paul side. As I had been since about mile 15, I kept waiting for the "5 minutes too fast" pace group to pass me.
One time a couple years ago, I photographed a friend running White Rock and gave her the photos afterward, all of which I thought were great. Her comment was, “oh look at me and how happy I am, completely oblivious to the fact that the 4 hour pace group is bearing down behind me and would pass me in less than half a mile.” Well, those words came back to me during the marathon. I hit the bridge right around 19 and I heard this woman lean over and say to her daughter, look at all those balloons coming, honey. Shoot, I knew that meant the "5 minutes too fast" pace group was closing in.
I got across the bridge and made the hard right turn on the course and happened to look directly at the person who cheered my name on the corner – it was my cousin Maggie! That was a surprise. Her sister (who ran the full as well, whose boyfriend got my arm warmers), had told me she’d be cheering somewhere along the route, likely near the lakes, but the lakes ended around mile 13, so I figured I’d missed her. So I didn't see any of my immediate family, though I knew they were on the course, but I did manage to see Maggie and her sis's b/f. Anyway, the "5 minutes too fast" pace group drew even with me within a couple minutes of seeing Maggie, and I stayed with them through about 20. And then let them slide, knowing I had a slight cushion.
But honestly, I don't know if there was a lot of choice involved in letting them slide. There seemed to be more hills and more sun on the last 6 miles and I slowed considerably (though it actually wasn’t hot, high was low 60s that day). My total finish time came out great, and actually my last mile was at my overall average pace as well. It was just 20-25 that were rough. So here are my 5 mile splits, which I recorded. According to the BQ pace band, ideally, I gave myself a 4 second window for each 5 miles (since there is a BQ minute cushion).
1-5= 1:45 too fast (oops)
5-10= 1:29 too fast (oops)
10-15= 1:04 too fast (oops)
15-20= exactly in the middle of my 4 second range (finally on track)
20-25= 2:17 too slow (yeah, see what I mean?)
25-26= perfect (downhill and lovely)
The toughest part for me was thinking I saw the finish line. There were 2 big cranes set up with an American flag hanging between them at the bottom of the downhill. I started gunning for that. Couldn't tell it was a flag, with the wind it looked like a big longhorn symbol. But as I came up on it, I realized it either was mile marker 26 or just a random flag but I WAS NOT done. And after that point, it actually wasn't downhill anymore. It was fairly flat but oh, I was ready to be done. Either way, I kept pushing as much as I could and came in fairly certain I'd done it. The clock showed me missing it by less than a minute, but I knew I hadn't started with the clock. My watch showed I'd done it, and even if I'd hit the start late or the finish early, I knew I hadn't missed by over a minute, so I was safe.
My newest FB friend, Patrick, said he kind of wished he'd stayed with me longer b/c he got going too fast after the half when we separated and then really sucked wind after about 20, but he still ended up at within the 1 minute BQ cushion for the "5 minutes too fast" pace group finish time. Quite impressive for a first marathon! He says he thinks he may try another next year. Among the rest of the crew that ran, Adam had a PR, my Dallas weekend pace group leader did not PR but met his goal (injured this year), my cousin almost had a PR, my cousin’s husband PRed, and Adam’s girlfriend PRed. Plus, my sweet hubby finished the 10 mile with his guaranteed PR (first 10 mile race), but also on track for a half PR, and my mom finished the 10 mile with her guaranteed PR (also her first 10 mile race), but ahead of her goal to boot! Everyone was really happy with the race and his/her finish time, so it was all-around great.
Anyway, after I finished the race, I did a bit of walking, but not enough. By the time I sucked down a fruit cup, got a bottle of water, grabbed some chips, and got my medal and shirt, I was hurting. Badly. I found some shady grass and asked a paramedic if I could sit down there. She asked if I was going to pass out and I told her I just needed to stretch. She let me borrow her phone so I could call the AC, and by the time I got off, she was attending to others nearby who weren’t feeling well. One of the other paramedics gave me a hand to get back on my feet, and I slowly headed toward the finisher photographs. Right after I took my picture, Adam found me, so we got a picture together (unfortunately, his eyes were shut in it, otherwise I would have ordered it) and started to walk toward gear-check to retrieve my bag. I got it and felt awful. I thought I was going to get sick. I asked Adam if we could just sit or lay down for a minute in the field (tons of other runners sitting, laying, stretching, talking). We found the shade of a trash can and hit the ground. I couldn’t really lie down or get comfortable, but I was able to lay back for a minute or two with my knees up, and that probably helped with blood flow.
While lounging in the grass, waiting for me to feel better, I spotted and chatted with a new friend I’d met at my cousin’s house a few nights earlier, and I also found my weekend pace coach from Dallas and got to hear about his race for a few minutes. By then, Adam and I both felt better. Our leg cramps subsided and I no longer felt ill. We slowly walked to find my hubby and family, and then Adam went to find his girlfriend and hubby and I slowly made our way back to the hotel and then headed out for a big lunch with lots of family, and then to a party at my cousin’s house. Everyone was so happy with a great race, so it was fun celebrating. I was pretty sore, mostly in my quads, for several days, but it steadily got better and was not as bad as it has been after other races. The good news was I had no worries of injury, it was just normal levels of post-race soreness for me. And the Boston-qualifying smile on my face seemed to be permanent!
So there you have it. My MTCM race report. Highly recommended. Good expo, great pre-race, fair course elevation, very good course scenery, great crowd support, good medal, good finish.