Today I ran the Mankato Marathon. This is local race that I had never done before. I didn’t decide to run it until a few weeks ago. I was initially unsure if I could be ready to race so soon after the Appalachian Series. I finally made up my mind after finishing the Tahoe Triple with no aches or pains.
I wasn’t too worried about the race filling, but I should have been worried about hotels filling. The race finishes downtown, so I wanted to stay in one of the downtown hotels. I try to stay at Hilton properties when I can, and there was a Hilton Garden Inn right next to the finish line. When I checked availability, they were completely booked.
The Mankato Marathon allows race morning packet pickup, so I could have driven down the morning of the race. The drive time is about an hour and a half, so I would have to get up pretty early. I’d also have to drive home in sweaty running clothes. That was my backup plan, but I kept checking to see if the hotel had any rooms, just in case there was a cancellation.
About two weeks before the race, I was able to get a room at Hilton Garden Inn. There was a two-night minimum, but staying two nights was better than getting up at 3 AM to drive to the race and also having to drive home without a shower.
I left for Mankato yesterday afternoon, arriving around 3:00. I stopped at the hotel first. I had a room on the sixth floor, overlooking the Minnesota River.
After dropping off by bags at the hotel, I drove to the expo, which was a few miles away on the campus of MSU Mankato. While I was there, I looked at a course map. The race starts on campus, which is about 200 feet above the river. The course is relatively flat, but there’s a nice long downgrade starting at mile 17. That’s where we begin descending toward the river, where we would eventually finish.
I was impressed with the race packet. There were some nice goodies like travel-size deodorant and food samples. There was also 42 page race guide and maps of Mankato restaurants and attractions. This race isn’t as large as Twin Cities or Grandma’s, but it’s well-organized.
When I got home from the Appalachian Series, I was feeling run down. I slept for nine hours both Thursday and Friday nights. I also didn’t run for three days. I arrived in Mankato feeling recharged. Of course, I wouldn’t know if I was fully recovered until I started running.
My biggest concern was a spot on the bottom of my right foot where I tore the skin while removing a bandage on Wednesday. Overnight, a scab formed. During the day, I keep a Band-Aid on it, and it gradually softens up. At night, I remove the Band-Aid, so the skin can breathe. Overnight, the scab hardens. In the morning, my first step out of bed feels like I’m stepping on a piece of broken glass. That’s not a feeling I wanted at the start of a race. Last night, I kept the Band-Aid on. This morning, I was able to walk on it without any pain.
When I woke up, it was 41 degrees, but there was enough wind to make it feel like 34. It was forecast to get into the low 50s by the time I finished the race, but it was going to be windy throughout the race. Most importantly, there was zero percent chance of rain. After running in rain for most of the Appalachian Series, I was looking forward to a dry race.
Because of the wind, I wore tights. Naturally, I wore the cheetah tights. I also wore my warm cheetah hat. I started the race in gloves, but I could always take them off.
The start was a few miles away on the MSU Mankato campus. Buses to the start left from Verizon Wireless civic center, which was across the street from my hotel. Without thinking about how close the start was, I caught one of the earliest buses. I got to the start much earlier than I needed to be there. I saw some other runners huddled inside a heated bus shelter, and I joined them. It was nice to get out of the wind.
About an hour before the start, I left the shelter to get in line for the port-o-potties. There wasn’t any line. They had so many that there was no waiting. Lines formed eventually, but they weren’t very long. Most races don’t have enough bathrooms. That wasn’t a problem here.
I returned to the bus shelter until about 20 minutes before the race. Then I had to remove my warm-up layers, so I could check my gear bag and line up for the start.
My goal was 3:30. I didn’t know if that was realistic so soon after the Appalachian Series, but I had to try. There wasn’t a 3:30 pace group for the marathon, but there was a 1:45 pace group for the half marathon. I lined up right next to them.
When the gun went off, I followed the 1:45 pacer. Then I saw my friend Pam run by. Pam was doing the half marathon, and she was starting at a pace that was too fast for me. I sped up long enough to say hello, and then I slowed down again. I finished the first mile in 8:03, which was about right.
By the end of the first mile, we were running into the wind. It was tiring. At the three mile mark, we turned left to begin a big loop through the surrounding countryside. Now we had a cross-wind, which was noticeably easier. Miles four through eight had some rolling hills. This was probably the toughest part of the course, but it comes early, when your legs are still fresh.
After the first hill, we turned again. Now we had the wind at our back. Suddenly, it was easier. I also felt warmer, so I took off my gloves. Throughout the early miles, the wind and hills made it difficult to stay on a consistent pace. Some miles were fast, and some miles were slow. Overall, however, I was running pretty close to my goal pace.
I reached the halfway mark in 1:44:07. I was on pace, but it was more tiring that it should be at this point. I was counting on the second half being easier. There was a long gradual downhill stretch from 17-20. I was also counting on having the wind at our backs in the late miles. First, we had to get through miles 14-16. This section was mostly into the wind.
Running into the wind was tiring, and I began to slow down. I was giving back time, but looking forward to easier miles after we made the turn at 16 miles. When I got there, I made a sharp right. It still felt like I was running into the wind. There was a large corn field on my right. A glance at the dried corn rustling in the wind confirmed that we were, in fact, running into the wind. The wind shifted at the worst possible time.
I had another slow mile. What was once a cushion of roughly a minute had now eroded to nine seconds. I was also tiring. At 17 miles, I began the downhill section. It was only a slight downgrade at first. The wind seemed to nullify the hill. In the next mile the grade became more noticeable. With effort, I was able to pick up my pace. I gained some time that mile.
At19 miles, we left the road for a paved bike path. We turned out of the wind, but it didn’t matter. We were now surrounded by enough trees to provide shelter from the wind. Suddenly I felt warm. Only a few miles earlier, I was freezing. Now the warm hat and tights were a liability. We were still running downhill. I had another fast mile, but it was taking too much effort.
At 20 miles, the course leveled off. I expected to have a tail wind on this section, but I no longer felt any wind at all. There weren’t going to be any more easy miles. I had a cushion of 52 seconds, but I couldn’t sustain my effort. As I backed off, I slowed down substantially. Just like that, I went from eight minute miles to nine minute miles. I was hitting the wall.
At 21 miles, I was no longer on pace for 3:30, and I realized I was going to struggle just to finish. The remaining miles were slow and uncomfortable. I just had to get through them. We returned to streets, as we got closer to the river. At 23 miles, we switched to another paved bike path. This one was alongside the river. This was the nicest part of the course, but it was difficult to enjoy it. I was suffering.
At 25 miles, I glanced at my watch and realized I could still break 3:40 if I ran the last 1.2 miles in 12 minutes. My previous two miles was been slower than 10 minutes, so I had to speed up. With just over a mile to go, it seemed possible.
A few blocks later, I reached an aid station. After drinking some Gatorade, I tried to drop the empty cup into a trash receptacle. The wind blew it out of my hand. At the next corner, we turned left, and I had that same wind at my back. It was the first time since mile nine that I felt a tail wind, and it helped.
I looked up and saw the top floor of Hilton Garden Inn above the other downtown buildings. Knowing that we finished right next to it made the finish visible. After another bend in the road, I could see the whole building. It was getting closer. Looking closer to street level, I could see the finish line banner. As I got closer, I ran harder. I ran as hard as I could in the last block. I finished in 3:39:05.
After finishing, I received my finisher medal and T-shirt. I didn’t eat much post-race food. I had two slices of leftover pizza in my hotel room, and that sounded better. After retrieving my gear bag, I stayed in the finish area to talk to other Minnesota runners who I bumped into after the race.
The weather was now surprisingly comfortable. I didn’t need my warm-ups, and I wasn’t in a big hurry to get indoors. It had warmed up to 60 degrees, and we were sheltered from the wind by the downtown buildings.
When I eventually got back to my room, it could hear cheering outside. I also heard the finish line announcer. I opened my window and had this view. That’s how close I was to the finish line.
After cleaning up and getting dressed, I watched people finishing from my window. I got to see the last finishers without having to go outside.
Before the race, I didn’t know if 3:30 was a realistic goal so soon after a five in five days series. I now realize it wasn’t. The wind didn’t help, but the real problem was that my pace just wasn’t sustainable. I don’t regret trying. You don’t know what your limits are if you don’t test them. Sometimes you discover that you can do more than you thought you could. Other days, you’re reminded that you do, in fact, have limits.
Today, I tried something ridiculous, and I hit my limits. Looking back, some of my best race results have come on days when I had the audacity to try something that seemed ridiculous at the time. I’ll keep attempting the ridiculous. More often than not, I’ll fail. If I occasionally succeed, it’s worth it.