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Home » Endurance » Running » Marathons » Grandmas 2005

Grandma’s Marathon 2005

Note: I am recalling this race almost a year after it happened, so some of the details may be a bit fuzzy. But hey, this is sort of like a memoir, so that is legit, right?

I have been a runner (or at least one step above a jogger) since middle school and after finally graduating from college and entering the workforce, I somehow decided it would be a good idea to complete a marathon. After some searching, I decided upon Grandma’s Marathon in mid June. I could conveniently combine this race with an excursion to the Boundary Waters and have a nice little vacation. Due to a family illnesses and my purchase of a house, I ended up skipping the canoe based adventure (actually postponed it until the next year) and just took on the marathon.

I intended to camp or sleep in my car the night before the race, but when my parents discovered my marathon ambitions, they insisted on coming to watch and encourage me. They wanted slightly nicer accommodations than what I planned, so a hotel it was. Unfortunately, Grandma’s Marathon is about Duluth’s largest annual event so hotel rooms were scare even trying to book one in January. Many people apparently acquire rooms a year ahead to assure prime locations. Of course, the hotels were nice enough to jack up prices and require a two-night stay as well. The best (and about only) room we could find was in a motel which had not been renovated since the 1960s in nearby Cloquet.

Driving There

Pasta Dinner

Enjoying the Pasta Dinner

The race was Saturday morning, so Thursday afternoon my parents swung by Cedar Rapids to drive to Duluth with me. We arrived at our hotel that night, and made our way into Duluth on Friday. The race expo and packet pickup was our first stop. Since I was a rookie marathoner, I was surprised by how many people were swarming throughout the show and the number of vendors inside. I successfully retrieved my marathon packet and took advantage of any free samples from the merchants. We walked around Canal Park adjacent to the expo center and watched workers erect the finish area for the next day. I also discovered the Canal Park Marine Museum featuring many interesting exhibits and artifacts on the history of shipping on the Great Lakes. That evening my parents and I ate at the Pasta Dinner and afterwards retreated to our five-star accommodations to rest before the big day.

Before I recount race day itself, let me delve into my training for the race (with the hindsight of two marathons, one good and one bad, now under my belt). I knew that running a marathon would be hard, but in my self-reliant stubbornness chose not to follow any formal training program. Who needs the advice of experts gleaned from years of running and countless races? Especially when my longest race prior to this was only ten miles. I improvised my training, not having a set plan or goal for any given week or even an overarching agenda. This oversight resulted in me increasing my mileage too quickly early on, forcing me to back off for several weeks. I ran often throughout the weeks preceding the race, but my longest training session was seventeen miles, which was a struggle with ample walking interspersed. I had a goal to finish in four hours but mainly pulled that number from the air as it sounded good, doing no detailed planning as to what would be required to actually accomplish that. My youthful ignorance and stupidity was in ample supply. The recollection of the race below shows the price I paid for that. (At least I eventually learned my lesson.)

The Race

My dad and I before the race

My Dad giving me support before the race began

I woke up the next morning, had a small bowl of Cheerios, and caught a ride in a cheese wagon to the starting line. Grandma’s Marathon is a point-to-point course down the shore of Lake Superior from Two Harbors to Duluth necessitating the armada of buses. I was dropped into a quagmire of runners that had already arrived. I tried to relax as much as possible as I waited for the race to begin. When I did enter the starting coral, it was packed. I fought my way through to the four hour pace group and awaited my race. When the scheduled start time finally arrived, I was too far back to hear any official start and only assumed the race had begun when the music changed to Chariots of Fire. The crowd moved slowly forward shortly after, confirming my suspicion, and I eventually arrived at the actual starting line — over four minutes after the clock started. A vintage train from the Lake Superior Railroad Museum had ferried spectators to the starting line who cheered on the participants.

With over 9,000 competitors, the road was packed curb to curb and as far forward as I could see. Not until the mileage started to enter the double digits did the throng of runners begin to thin. Still early though the pace was easy and the dense crowds provided plenty of people with which to chat and gain encouragement. I learned the four hour pace group leader was running a twenty-four hour race later that year at this same pace, so this marathon should be easy for him. The race course was a bit remote and not very spectator friendly, so few people lined the first half of the race, leaving the runners to depend on each other. People who lived along the road gathered in small enthusiastic groups (including an Elvis impersonator), but large continuous crowds were missing.

Finish Line

The finish line very early in the morning

Despite the relaxed pace, I developed a stomach cramp around mile eight or nine as my breakfast began to disagree with me. It worsened and quickly degraded my performance. I walked and used a port-a-john, but that did not seem to improve anything. I painfully struggled on passing the half marathon in 2:04:36, close to my goal pace, but things went downhill from there. I felt awful and out of energy. I kept running as much as I could, but my body’s reaction to the race was powerful, and I walked quite a bit.

From Bad to Worse

My Dad

My Dad patiently waiting for me at the finish line

As the miles and the clock dragged on, the day began to warm which only added to my misery. I just focused on getting from aid station to aid station where I could grab some water and a damp sponge (which were absolutely a god-send). The crowds became larger as we entered Duluth so people were able to watch my tribulation. A frat was even handing out beer to any runners that needed a drink. I did not care much about anything else by this point other than trying to get to the finish line and get this brilliant idea of mine over with.

The course looped through downtown (tantalizingly close to the finish line, but in reality still about three miles to go), and eventually made its way towards Canal Park. Even though I only had a mile or so to go, I could barely muster any strength or will to actually run much. As I made the last agonizing turn insight of the finish line, my stomach returned with a vengeance. I passed by a doughnut stand from which emanated an aroma which pushed my stomach over the edge. Whatever may have been left inside was proudly displayed for all the spectators at the finish line. Having struggled with my stomach and body for almost eighteen miles of the race, I lost it blocks before the end.

The Struggle

Struggling through the later stages of the race

After my slight delay, I finally stumbled across the finish line in 5:01:44, 5712 out of almost 6900 finishers. Although I completed my marathon, I did not have a great sense of pride or accomplishment. My race was bad, and I felt absolutely horrible. The last 10K took me almost an hour and a half. As I made my way through the finishers’ area, grabbed some food, and questioned why the heck I did this race, thoughts already crept into my head that this would not be last my marathon. After I forgot just how awful I felt, my competitive pride would take over as I could not leave my marathon PR where it was. Plus, I did not actually run the whole marathon which I felt was important. Or maybe despite all my pain I had caught the marathon bug.

The Aftermath

On the plus side, being near the end (the official cut off was six hours) meant the volunteers distributing the post-race refreshments were eager to part with all their goodies. There was ample food anyway, and they started giving out whole packages of unopened food so they did not have to carry them back. I did miss the line for the massages though, which would have been nice.

The Finisher

Me after having finally finished

With the massive crowds and my unexpectedly slow finishing time, I had a difficult time tracking down my parents. After much searching we eventually found each other. They had waited steadfastly at end for over four and a half hours, and finally left about fifteen minutes before I struggled by to search for me. We visited as I continued recovering and recounted what went wrong.

After my disappointing performance, we drove south later in the day and stayed just outside Minneapolis, as I remembered my old summer internship stomping grounds. We did not do much else in the cities other than visiting Mall of America. On Sunday we returned to Cedar Rapids and my parents spent the next couple of days visiting and marveling at their son’s new house.


10 K55:02
13.1 mile2:04:36
20 mile3:32:54


Looking back, I basically did not do anything right to prepare. My training was haphazard without any real kind of understanding of what was needed for a marathon. My mileage leading up was too little and my longest day too short. I did not take advantage of the countless books and websites on the subject, or tap the knowledge base of local runners. I had an inadequate breakfast too close to race time and totally neglected nutrition throughout the race. I had water and the occasional sports drink, but it was insufficient and I never consumed any gels or other supplements. Although I put many miles leading up to the race, I got the results I deserved based on my lackluster training and execution. I am pretty stubborn and independent though, so I guess I just had to take the hard route. I did learn from my mistakes though (which is surprising), as my next marathon went about 100 times better. Also, no offense or disrespect intended for those of you who strive to run five hours. We each run our marathons against ourselves, and I knew I was capable of more.