On July 24, I race-walked the Xenia Avenue Marathon in Champlin, MN. This is the second time I’ve done this race. I ran the inaugural race last year.
When I signed up for this race, I was training for the 4-day Alaska Series, but I wanted to get one marathon under my belt before doing four in a row. More recently, I walked three other marathons, making this my fourth race in a span of nine days.
Champlin is about 35 miles from home, so I didn’t need to stay in a hotel. I drove up on Friday to pick up my race packet. Then I drove up again this morning for the race.
The weather was much warmer than you want for a marathon. The overnight low was 72 degrees, and I expected the temperature to climb into the upper 80s by noon. It rained during the night, but the rain was done before the race started. It didn’t do anything to help with the heat, but it did take some of the smoke out of the air.
Because I did this race last year, I was already familiar with the course. Most of the course was along paved bike paths. We did one relatively short loop that included some residential streets. Then we did five laps of a longer loop that was entirely on bike paths.
There were two aid stations on the course. One was in the start/finish area, and the other was about halfway through the main loop. Volunteers set bottles of water on tables, and we could grab a bottle as we went by. I wore a fuel belt, so it would be easy to keep a bottle with me until I finished it.
The biggest difference between this year’s race and last year is that I was race-walking this year. That meant I could expect to be on the course for about an hour and a half longer. That’s if I put an all-out effort into walking as fast as I can. I wasn’t planning to go all out.
I never bothered to look at who else was registered for this race. When I got to the start, I was surprised to see Alexis Davidson. Alexis is a race-walker. He’s walked hundreds of marathons, and his time is usually less than five hours. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t expect to be able to keep up with him. Because of the heat, he said he’d be happy with any time under six hours. With that in mind, I lined up next to him.
We started in a small neighborhood park across the street from Champlin Park High School. By the time we got out of the park, most of the runners were ahead of us, and I was walking next to Alexis. It wasn’t long before I started finding the pace to be a little bit tiring, and I wondered how fast we started. We walked that first mile in 11:38. Had I been on my own, I would’ve tried to keep my pace between 12:30 and 13:00. I was a little worried about blowing up, but I decided to stick with Alexis for a few more miles and see how it went.
By now, we were on the only part of the course that follows residential streets. That included two blocks along Xenia Avenue, for which the race is named.
I was expecting the aid stations to have bottles of water and Powerade. The water was in bottles, but the Powerade was in cups. I drank a cup of Powerade and didn’t carry anything with me.
I didn’t notice my split for the second mile, but the next two were with in the 11:40s. This was still somewhat fast, but it no longer felt tiring. Alexis and I were talking constantly. Normally, I can only walk fast if I’m completely focused on both my effort and my mechanics. Today, it seemed to help me to be distracted by conversation.
About halfway through our first big lap, we reached the other aid station on the course. They also had water in bottles and Powerade in cups. I seemed to be doing fine just drinking a cup of Powerade at each aid station, so I continued to do that. I could always start drinking water later, but for now, it was nice not needing to take a bottle with me. I did, however, feel foolish wearing a fuel belt that I wasn’t using.
For the next several miles, we slowed down a bit. Now our pace was settling into the 12:00 to 12:30 range. This was still faster than I planned to walk, but it felt comfortable.
We were almost halfway through the race before we finally had a mile that was slower than 12:30. We reached the halfway mark on pace for 5:20, but I expected to slow down in the second half. By now it was getting really hot. Earlier in the race, we had some cloud cover, but now it was sunny.
Over the next several miles we gradually slowed down from 12:30 per mile to 13:30. Alexis was struggling with the heat. I wasn’t bothered by the heat, but after starting so fast, I was content to slow down, as long as we were still easily on pace to break six hours.
After about 19 miles, we slowed down dramatically. In one mile, our pace slowed from 13:30 to 14:30. Alexis was really bothered by the hot conditions. On my own, I would’ve gone faster, but I stayed with him for the whole race.
We were on our second to last lap. As we went through the remote aid station, we didn’t see any more water bottles on the table. We decided to each grab a bottle when we got back to the start/finish area, just in case they ran out of water at the remote aid station.
As we began our last lap, I drank a cup of Powerade and put a full bottle of water in my fuel belt. For the first time in the race, I was carrying a little extra weight, but I was finding the pace to be easy at this point.
I didn’t drink any water before reaching the last aid station. I drank a cup of Powerade and kept walking. About half a mile later, I finally opened the bottle and started drinking the water.
In the last two miles, we slowed down some more. We weren’t really race-walking any more. Now we were just walking at a brisk pace. I could live with that as long as we would finish in less than six hours. We were still way ahead of that pace.
When we finally got back to the park for the last time, I looked ahead to see the digital clock at the finish line. It didn’t look like I would break 5:45, but I neglected to consider how much time in took me to cross the starting line after the race started. Alexis and I were lined up near the back. When I finished, my chip time was 5:44:44. Alexis was right behind me.
It was really nice having someone else to walk with. When I'm race-walking, I'm usually by myself for the whole race. I don't see many other race-walkers, and it's rare for a runner to be consistently going at the pace I'm walking. This was a nice change of pace.
This was my fourth marathon in a span of nine days. In the first one, I learned how fast I can walk a marathon with an all-out effort. In the second one, I was reminded how badly I can crash if I start too fast. In the third one, I found a pace I could comfortably sustain when I already had tired legs. In this race, I could’ve gone much faster in the second half, but I had the patience to hold back. I’ve been preparing to do a series of four marathons in four days. I think all the pieces are in place now.