Monday, October 5, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Twin Cities Marathon

I was originally scheduled to run the Jersey Marathon this weekend.  It was going to be the second race of a 12 day trip to Scotland, Jersey and England.  I cancelled those plans to fly home and be with Deb after her father Jim passed away.

When I flew home, I assumed I wouldn’t be running this weekend.  As it turns out, this was also the weekend of the Twin Cities Marathon, a home town race that I’ve done 11 times before.

In past years, this race has filled as early as May.  I assumed it was full, but I checked the website, just to make sure.  Online registration was closed, but there were still a limited number of slots available for in-person registration at the expo.  I printed the registration form, filled it out, and made a point of getting to the expo right when they opened the doors on Friday.  When I found the table for in-person registration, there were only five people in line ahead of me.  I wasn’t sure how many race numbers were still available, and I wasn’t taking any chances.

After the expo, I went to Cossetta’s Italian Market for lunch, where I bumped into my friend David.  St. Paul has a large community of Italian immigrants, and Cossetta’s is one of the authentic Italian restaurants.  When people ask for a restaurant recommendation in St. Paul, I send them here.

This race starts in Minneapolis and finishes in St. Paul.  Jim lived and worked in St. Paul for most of his life, so this was a way I could honor his life.  Jim was Italian, so I wore my Venice Marathon T-shirt, since it’s the only shirt I own that’s connected with Italy.

In the days leading up to the race, the St. Paul chapter of Black Lives Matter announced their intention so disrupt the race by blocking the course, so that none of the 11,000 runners could finish.  Their intent was to raise awareness of alleged cases of police brutality in St. Paul.  A lot of runners were stressing about this, but I assumed the race organizers and the St. Paul police would ensure the race could go on.  I think simply by threatening to disrupt the race, the group achieved its goals.  They got a significant amount of publicity and were able to arrange meetings with both the mayor and the governor to discuss their concerns.  After meeting with the mayor, they promised not to prevent runners from finishing.  Instead they provided with space near the finish line, where they could demonstrate without disrupting the race.

Although I already had my race packet, I drove back into St. Paul on Saturday to have dinner at Cossetta’s again with Stacy and Julie, who both traveled here from out of state.

This was my 12th Twin Cities Marathon, so I was familiar with the logistics.  I always park at Sears in downtown St. Paul.  They charge $20 for event parking, but the proceeds go to charity, and this lot is within walking distance of the finish line.  It’s also right next to the Best Western Plus Capitol Ridge, where you can catch buses to the start.  I got to Sears just after 5AM.  The lot was still fairly empty when I got there, but by 5:30, the nearby streets were jammed with cars trying to get to Sears.

Another good transportation option is to park somewhere near a light rail station and ride a train to the start.  Any runner could ride the trains for free by showing their race bib.

I waited at Best Western with Stacy, Missy and Hector.  We weren’t in too much of a rush to get to the start, knowing we would have to wait outside.  Inside the lobby, it was warm, and they had bathrooms.  At 6:15, we boarded a bus.

The bus got to downtown Minneapolis by 6:30, but we drove around for a surprisingly long time before we were dropped off.  I think they had to make adjustments in the route, possibly because there was a 10 mile race that was about to start.  Like the marathon, the 10 mile race starts in downtown Minneapolis and finishes in downtown St. Paul.  Unlike the marathon, it takes a direct route.  The marathon route meanders past many of the lakes and rivers in south Minneapolis before merging with the 10 mile course.  They both take the same route through St. Paul.  The 10 mile race started an hour before the marathon.

For many years, we were able to stay warm before the race by going inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which was right next to the start.  That stadium was torn down last year, so they can build a new football stadium on the same site.  The new stadium is still under construction, so we had to wait outside until it was time to start.  There isn’t a “start village” like New York or Boston, but there’s a large plaza next to the Downtown East light rail station.  The four of us waited together there and we bumped into a few other Marathon Maniacs.  Twenty minutes before the race, we got together for a group photo.

Weather was perfect for most runners, but chilly for me.  The temperature started in the low 40s and climbed into the 50s.  It was a sunny day with light winds.  Besides my Venice shirt, I wore tights to keep my legs warm in the early miles.

The marathon has three start corrals.  Because I signed up at the expo, I was automatically assigned to the last corral.  The race started at 8:00, and I had until 2:15 to finish.  I never used to worry about time limits, but I need to start paying attention to them, since I’m currently much slower than I used to be.

I lined up near the front of the corral.  Each corral had a separate start.  They were staggered by about six minutes.  When it was time for my corral to start, I went out at a pace that felt easy.  Other people near the front went out faster.  Within a block or two, we were spread out enough that I had plenty of room to run.  I haven’t had that experience when I’ve been in the middle of corral one.

For the first mile, we ran through the streets of downtown Minneapolis.  I finished the first mile in 9:09.  That’s a faster pace than I can sustain, but it really didn’t feel that fast.  I’ve been a poor judge of pace recently.  I’m not in good shape now, but it wasn’t that long ago that I could run effortlessly at a much faster pace.

In the next few miles, I eased up a bit, but I was careful not to slow down too much.  My hands and arms were still cold.  As we left downtown, we ran through the Kenwood neighborhood.  After about three miles, I started to feel warmer.  As I warmed up, I eased up a bit more.  After four miles, I was averaging 9:30 per mile.

Next we reached the chain of lakes in southwest Minneapolis.  The first lake was Lake of the Isles.  Here we got our first view of leaves that were beginning to change color.

The next lake is Lake Calhoun.  By now, the course was getting more congested.  Although I was moderating my pace, I was catching up to runners who started in corral 2.  As I moved through the field, it was harder to find room to run.  One nice thing about moving through the field was seeing lots of friends.

At the south end of Lake Calhoun, you can get a good view of the downtown buildings across the lake.

I saw a pace group ahead of me and realized it was the 4:30 pace group.  I was surprised to catch up to them so soon, since they started in corral two.  I was catching up to them even though they started six minutes earlier.

I didn’t think it was wise to pass them, but I felt boxed in behind them.  I knew my pace was too fast, but it felt natural.  I decided to move ahead of them so I would have more room to run.  Behind them I was constantly bumping elbows with other runners.

The third lake is Lake Harriet.  Between Lakes Calhoun and Harriet, there’s a small hill.  I eased up a bit on the hill, but before long I was running fast again.  The parkway around Lake Harriet was narrow, and I kept trying to find room to run without bumping into people.

The crowds around Lake Harriet were great.  I kept hearing people in the crowd cheering, “Go, David!”  At first it was one or two.  Then dozens of people were cheering.  I knew they couldn’t all be cheering for me.  It turns out there was another David running near me who had a huge cheering section.  It was his 100th marathon.

After the lakes, we turned onto Minnehaha Parkway.  This parkway follows Minnehaha Creek.  From the time we left downtown, we were always on tree-lined parkways.  Here I had more room to run, and I made a point of slowing down.  For the next few miles, I averaged 10 minutes per mile.  That was more likely to be sustainable.

Minnehaha Parkway is the only part of the course that could be called hilly.  They’re short hills, and there are only a few of them, but they were uncomfortable for me.  Running downhill aggravates my groin strain, and running uphill is tough, because my leg is bandaged, which constrains my quads.

When we ran under the Nicollet Avenue bridge, there was a rhythm ensemble performing for us.  This is a good place for musicians to set up, because they don’t have to worry about the weather.  The first time I did this race there was a small brass ensemble here playing the theme from The Muppets.  I’ll always associate running under this bridge with The Muppets.

After a few miles, we left Minnehaha Parkway to run a lap around Lake Nokomis.  This used to be the site of the FANS 24-Hour Run, and I’ve logged hundreds of miles running around this lake.  Thinking about FANS reminded me of the value of running at a sustainable pace.  So far, I was going too fast.  After 10 miles, I was already finding my pace to be a little tiring.  Here, I slowed down a little more.

As I stopped to take a picture, the 4:30 pace group passed me.  By now, I had slowed enough that I was perfectly happy staying behind them.  I reached the halfway mark in 2:09:46.  That’s about nine minutes faster than my last race, and I wondered how much that would haunt me in the second half.

As I started the second half, my focus shifted to finishing.  I was content so slow the pace down.  Now I was just counting down the remaining miles and enjoying the scenery.  As we left Lake Nokomis behind, we followed Minnehaha Parkway for two more miles.

At 15 miles, we got onto West River Parkway.  For the next few miles, we ran along the west bank of the Mississippi.  I was going slow, and most of the other runners were now passing me.  For the first time since the early miles, I started to feel cold.

Within a mile or two, my legs got stiff and my pace slowed dramatically.  I was no longer looking at my watch, but I could feel the difference.  If my pace was slow before, now it could best be described as glacial.

When I ran under the Lake Street Bridge, I realized we had one more mile before crossing the river.  During that mile I started to get hot.  The sun was higher in the sky, and I could feel its radiant heat.  Although I was warmer, my legs never recovered.  Once they stiffen up, it’s tough to restore good circulation without running fast.  That’s something I wouldn’t be able to sustain.

Although we were running next to the river, we seldom saw it.  Mostly we had views of the trees.  Most of them were still green, but there were a few patches of color.

At 19 miles, we crossed the Franklin Avenue Bridge and got a good view of the Mississippi.

For the next two miles, we ran south along East River Road.  Being on the east side of the river made me feel like I was on the home stretch.  I was going slow, but I would get there.  No sooner did we turn off the bridge than I was passed by the 4:45 pace group.  I wasn’t surprised that they passed me, but I still had seven miles to go.  It made me wonder if I would be able to break five hours.

At 20 miles, I reached the ALARC wall.  ALARC is a local running club, and they’ve always sponsored an aid station on East River Road.  I looked at my watch for the first time in several miles.  It read 3:27:42.  That was a pleasant surprise.  All I needed to do to break five hours was to average 15 minutes per mile.  I didn’t know my recent pace, but I assumed I could do that if I didn’t do any walking.

Just down the road, I saw the 4 mile sign for the 10 mile race.  Realizing we had exactly six miles to go, I looked at my watch again.  It read 3:27:42.  WTH?  I must have accidentally stopped it.  How long ago did that happen?  I no longer had any confidence I could break five hours.  Not knowing my time took the wind out of my sails.  Thinking back to the early miles, I remembered the difference between my watch and the digital clocks was about 13 minutes.  From here on, I would only know my time when I saw one of those large digital clocks.  Unfortunately, they don’t have them at every mile.  I restarted my watch, so I could at least determine my current pace.

Running along the East River Road, I started to feel cold again.  I wasn’t running fast enough to generate any heat, so I felt cold for the rest of the race.

At 21 miles, we left the river to begin the gradual climb to the University of St. Thomas.  This hill isn’t steep, but it’s the one people remember.  A lot of people were walking the hill.  I kept running at my glacial pace.

Next we turned onto Summit Avenue, which would lead us to downtown St. Paul.  In Minneapolis, the parkways showcase the lakes and rivers.  Summit Avenue showcases churches and mansions.

At 22 miles, I checked my watch.  I ran that mile in 15:02.  That was an uphill mile, but it didn’t include any walking or stopping.  It was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to break five hours.

Toward the end of mile 23, there’s a hill.  I look forward to getting past this hill, because it marks the end of three consecutive uphill miles.  Before I got there, I was passed by the 5:00 pace group.  It was less than four miles after the 4:45 pace group passed me.  I still had three agonizingly slow miles to go.

For as long as I can remember, there’s always been a beer stop along Summit Avenue.  This year, I saw two.  The first one was just before we crossed the bridge over Ayd Mill Road.  In past years, I never stopped.  Either I was going fast and didn't want to slow down, or I was dehydrated and didn't want to risk having alcohol.  This year, I had nothing to lose.  As I approached the table, I was asked if I wanted water or beer.  I said, “Beer!”  Then I laughed at the notion that someone would stop there for water.

I’ve run this race a dozen times, including some other years when I wasn’t in shape.  This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled through the late miles.  I’m not familiar with all the side streets in St. Paul, but when we cross Ayd Mill Road, I know where I am.  Soon, I reached the 24 mile sign.  I was getting slower.  Roughly 15:30 for that mile.

At 25 miles, there was a digital clock.  Deducting 13 minutes from the time on the clock, I got there in 4:54 and change.  With 1.2 miles to go, it seemed like I should still be able to beat my time from my previous race.

There are a few small hills on Summit Avenue, but after the 25 mile mark, the road starts to slope downhill.  If you have anything left, you can pick up the pace here.  I had some energy, but my legs felt like they were made of lead.  I plodded along.

I started looking above the trees to my left, knowing I’d eventually be able to see the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  I could only see the steeple.  I pointed it out to other runners and told them the cathedral was at the 26 mile mark.  Seeing the cathedral is the next best thing to seeing the finish line.  I told myself to run to the steeple.  It was now a “steeple chase.”

The finish is downhill, but I wasn’t able to speed up.  Instead I stopped several times to take pictures of the cathedral and the approach to the finish.

When I crossed the line, I looked at the clock.  Deducting 13 minutes, I figured my chip time would be 5:13:52, plus or minus a few seconds.  I eventually learned it was 5:13:50.  I beat my time from last week, but only by eight seconds.  I did it the hard way.  I was nine minutes faster in the first half and nine minutes slower in the second half.

They ran out of chocolate milk just before I got there, but they still had bananas, potato chips, soup, and Great Harvest rolls.  After getting some food, I continued through the finish area to retrieve my gear bag and get my finisher shirt.  After changing into my warm-ups, I headed over to the beer garden to wait for Stacy.  I heard the finish line announcer calling out the names of a few other friends who finished just behind me.  I spotted Karen.  I looked for Halbert and Heather, but I wasn’t able to spot them in the finish area.

I feel fortunate that I was able to run this race, allowing me to stay on schedule for my long-term goals.  This was lifetime marathon number 290.  I’m still hopeful that I can do my 300th at the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon in November.  This was also my 35th marathon of the year.  I’m also still hopeful that I can get to 51.  It won’t be easy.  I have 16 races in the next 10 weeks.

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