On September 12, I ran the Dick Beardsley Marathon in Detroit Lakes, MN. This was an inaugural race. They’ve had a half marathon for 20 years. This year, they added a marathon. I’d like to eventually run every marathon in Minnesota, so naturally I had to add this one to my race schedule.
Dick Beardsley is one of the best marathon runners ever to come from Minnesota. When I started running in the early 80s, he was one of my heroes. He became a household name in Minnesota running circles after setting a course record on 2:09:37 at the 1981 Grandma’s Marathon. That record held up until 2014. Nationally, he’s best known for his Duel in the Sun with Alberto Salazar at the 1982 Boston Marathon.
I first had the opportunity to meet Dick Beardsley when he was the speaker at a pre-race dinner for the 2011 Napa Valley Marathon. Later that year, I also heard him speak at the Tahoe Triple.
Detroit Lakes has a number of lake resorts. Since I was only there for the race, I opted to stay at a motel instead. It was a four hour drive from Minneapolis, including a brief lunch stop in St. Cloud. After checking in at my motel, I drove to the Detroit Lakes Pavilion to pick up my race packet.
Besides a long-sleeve T-shirt, my race packet included a towel, a tube of sunblock, and a floating key chain. These are all essential items if you spend your summers at the lake.
Later I went to a pre-race pasta dinner hosted by Holiday Inn. The dinner was only $10, and Dick Beardsley was there. I sat with a couple other Marathon Maniacs, and I also met a runner who was doing his first marathon. The race has had a change in leadership. It’s now managed by the same race director as the Fargo Marathon. After dinner, the race director introduced Dick Beardsley and the two men who founded the half marathon. They each talked about the history of the race. Then Dick sang a few songs that he wrote himself.
In past years, the half marathon course was essentially a loop around Detroit Lake, which was run in the counter-clockwise direction. This year, they changed the half marathon to be a clockwise loop. The marathon route started with a counter-clockwise loop around the lake. After a complicated turnaround in the middle, we ran the loop clockwise, finishing at the Detroit Lakes Pavilion, where we started.
This race was supposed to be a return to normalcy. Two weeks ago, I did a 50K trail run in a thunderstorm. Last week, I did a 6-hour race with a heat index of 101. This week, I was running a nice easy road marathon with favorable weather. I thought that would give me a reasonable chance of finishing within four and a half hours.
The overnight low was in the mid-40s, with the temperature forecast to climb into the low 60s by noon. Normally that would mean shorts and a T-shirt, or perhaps even a singlet. Lately, my legs have been chronically stiff, and they’re worse when they’re cold. To help keep my legs warm, I wore tights, realizing I might get hot toward the end of the race. I was willing to risk being overdressed.
There’s a small parking lot right next to the start. With some runners arriving as early as 5:30 for race morning packet pickup, I expected that lot to fill early. There were two other lots with ample parking, but they were each at least a half mile away. I arrived at 5:40, even though the race didn’t begin until 7:00. That was early enough to get one of the close parking spots. That gave me the luxury of waiting until the last minute to remove my warm-up clothes. I also didn’t need a drop bag.
There were rows of port-o-potties outside, but I noticed the pavilion had real bathrooms. Unfortunately, my digestive system wasn’t cooperating. It wasn’t awake yet. Fifteen minutes before the race, I did some warm-up exercises. That brought my digestive system to life. Ten minutes before the race, I tried the bathroom. The stalls were occupied, but nobody else was waiting. After waiting a minute or two, I was able to use the bathroom. I finished my business with five minutes left before the start. That never happens at larger races. I was outside in time for the National Anthem.
All summer, I’ve been starting races with stiff legs. That usually forces me to start slow. I’ve found that when I start slow, I never loosen up, so I run slowly for the whole race. I’ve also found that if I can force myself to run faster in spite of the stiffness, I loosen up. That’s the approach I took with this race.
Although we were mostly running around the lake, we started by running away from the lake. After about six blocks, we turned left. After a few more blocks, we turned left again, and started heading back toward the lake.
Shortly after the second turn, we reached the first mile marker. My first mile was roughly nine minutes. I felt good for the time being, but I didn’t think it would be a sustainable pace. I stuck with that pace for the early miles.
In the second mile, we started our loop around the lake. At times, we were right by the shore and had views across the lake. Other times, we were running the streets closest to the lake, but we couldn’t always see the lake.
The half marathon started at 7:30, but they were running in the opposite direction. After about seven miles, I saw the lead runners coming toward us. About this same time, I noticed I was no longer keeping up with the runners around me. I was slowing down, ever so slightly. I didn’t try to keep up. I maintained my effort and allowed my pace to slow. It was too early in the race to be working hard.
Sometime between 10 and 11 miles, we reached the Holiday Inn. We were on a paved sidewalk, and there were signs indicating we needed to make room for two-way traffic. By now, the half marathon runners had all passed. Then I saw the leader of the marathon on his way back. I was continuing to ease up, slowing to perhaps 9:30 per mile. As I relaxed, my legs started to get stiff. That seemed to start a vicious cycle. As my legs got stiff, my pace slowed. Rather than fight it, I continued to ease up. That seemed to make my legs stiffen even more. I started to slow dramatically.
As we got back on streets, the 4:00 pace group passed me. I wasn’t too concerned, as I didn’t really expect to be able to break four hours. What was alarming is that I couldn’t have stayed with them if I tried. I could no longer run anywhere close to that pace.
The middle miles had a lot of turns. We ran about three quarters of the way around the high school. Then we made a 180 degree turn in the middle of a block. I think that was the halfway mark. If so, I ran the first half in 2:01. Soon, I was passed by another pace group. It was the 4:15 group. Overnight I went from 9:30 to 11 minute miles. Everybody was passing me now.
Coming back, we went around another block before returning to our original route to begin out clockwise loop around the lake. At one point, I could hear cheering from the finish line. As the crow flies, it was only about two blocks away. The faster half marathon runners were finishing. The middle section seemed unusually complicated. I think they did that so they could have a relay exchange in a different place than the finish line.
As I got back to Holiday Inn, I was passed by a large group of runners. It was another pace group. I didn’t see the front of the pace leader’s sign, but from the pace written on the back, I realized they were the 4:30 group. I still had almost 11 miles to go. I expected them to eventually pass me, but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. Did I really slow down that much?
I got my answer when I reached the 16 mile sign. My time was 2:36 and change. I was now doing 12 minute miles. At that rate, I’d take two more hours to finish. I wasn’t done slowing down. Before long, I clocked my first 13 minute mile.
I didn’t feel tired, but my legs were stiff and sore. Running was getting increasingly uncomfortable. At 17 miles, I entertained thoughts of walking. The only thing that kept me running was realizing how long it would take to walk that many miles.
By the time I reach 18 miles, my watch read 3:01. It was now after 10:00, and the temperature was probably around 60. Even with the tights, I never felt hot. I wasn’t going fast enough to generate excess heat.
Usually, when you slow down in the second half, it’s because you ran too fast in the first half. I had to wonder if I’ve really lost so much fitness that 10 miles at a 9:00 pace could cause me to slow down this much. To this point, I never felt tired or short of breath. I just had really sore stiff legs. When I reached a small hill, I used it as a test. I made a point of running uphill at the same pace that I was running before. If aerobic capacity wasn’t an issue, I shouldn’t get tired running uphill at the same slow pace. About halfway up the hill, I realized I was starting to breathe harder. Near the top, I felt a burning sensation in my quads. It’s the way you feel when you’re accumulating lactate faster than you can clear it. OK. I really do have a diminished aerobic capacity.
I hit the 20 mile mark in roughly 3:28. I entertained thoughts of walking. If I walked the rest of the way, I’d still break 5:30. On the other hand, if I ran the rest of the way – even at a 14 pace – I’d break 5:00. I kept running.
I was going to start walking at the 21 mile sign. Then I saw a sign. It read, “Run if you can. Walk if you must. Never give up.” I checked my watch. I kept that mile under 14 minutes. I kept running. I couldn’t say the same about the next mile. It was slower than 14 minutes. At 22 miles, I started walking.
The transition from running to walking was painful. For the first few steps, I was limping. Then I committed to the walking gait and my stride evened out. I wasn’t able to walk very fast. I kept working at it. I did my best to pick up the pace, but it was tough. Walking was also uncomfortable. Every muscle was stiff and sore. I no longer felt the soreness in my quads. Now I felt really tight in my hamstrings. It was a different kind of discomfort, but it was still uncomfortable.
I clocked my first walking mile in 16 minutes and change. It was only two minutes slower than my last running mile. I kept walking.
I started looking across the lake to see where we finish. Near the shoreline, I could see trees, beaches, buildings and boats. I couldn’t recognize any of them. Eventually, I spotted a Canadian flag. Before the race, I saw three flags flying outside the Detroit Lakes Pavilion. They were a United States flag, a Minnesota flag, and a Canadian flag. The building next to the flags was the pavilion. It looked like it was about half a mile away. That was misleading, as our route to the finish wasn’t direct.
Now that I was walking, my hands started to get cold. There was a light breeze. I had to put on the gloves that I had taken off earlier in the race.
I didn’t want to finish the race walking. I told myself I’d start running when we turned away from the lake. Then I changed my mind and decided to start running when I reached the 25 mile sign. I knew I was getting close to the turn when I saw a sign with a large “Z.” That’s Zorbaz Pizza Shack, which is on the corner where we turned.
We were on a busy street. As I reached the turn, police stopped the cars. I felt guilty about walking through the turn as cars were waiting. I tried to walk faster. When I got to 25 miles, I forced myself to start running again. My three walking miles took 49 minutes. Had I run them, they probably would have taken 42 minutes. I only gave up seven minutes by walking. My watch read 4:44 and change. If I could run the last 1.2 miles in 15 minutes, I could still break five hours. Earlier, I wasn’t running fast enough. Could I put on a finishing kick?
A few blocks ahead, there was an aid station. I had to run up a small hill to get there. I fought hard to pick up my pace. The volunteer asked if I wanted water. I asked for Gatorade. He said they only had water, but this was the last hill. I drank some water and kept pushing the pace.
I crested that hill and rounded a corner. There was another hill. He lied! When someone tells you there aren’t any more hills, it’s always a lie. I kept fighting to pick up my pace. I made the last turn and looked for the finish line. It was too far away. I couldn’t see it yet. Three blocks ahead, I could see a traffic light. Eventually, I saw the finish line. It was three more blocks.
I pushed hard all the way in. When I saw the 13 mile sign for the half marathon, I looked at my watch. I had it. I finished in 4:57:04. Breaking five hours in spite of the walking gave me something to feel good about.
The finisher medal had a design with the shape of the lake. On the back it says, “FINISHER. When you cross that finish line, it will change your life forever!” That’s exactly what I tell first time marathoners.
After the race, I went to Zorbaz with Chuck, one of the Marathon Maniacs I met at this race.
Later, I went to Lakeside Tavern for dinner, since Chuck said they had good pizza too. They bring serve the pizza with honey on the side. Knowing that, I ordered a Hawaiian pizza with ham, pineapple and roasted almonds. Those toppings all went well with honey drizzled on top.
This wasn’t an ultra. It wasn’t a trail run. It wasn’t hot. There was nothing difficult about it. I still struggled for the last 15 miles. So much for my return to normalcy. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of my race schedule.
This was my 287th lifetime marathon or ultra. I need 13 more to get to 300. They’re not getting any easier. I recently compared my race schedule to a marathon of marathons. It’s more like an ultra. I feel like it’s 2 AM and I’m going through a bad patch.