ENOUGH WITH THE SMALL TALK. HOW'D IT GO?
I came up short of my goal but technically qualified for Boston nonetheless. My time of 3:12:55 was a PR by more than 3 1/2 minutes.
DID YOU WIN?
We'll find out when I try to register for Boston in September. Otherwise I was 451st of 6337 overall, 372nd of 3658 men and 65th of 485 in my age group.
HOW'D THAT HAPPEN?
My day started ominously. I jogged the couple blocks from the condo to the DECC, the departure point for the buses, amidst a cool drizzle. I was plenty early but nevertheless concerned that the only folks I saw lined up were half marathoners. I walked around for a while, looking for perhaps another line for the full, but found nothing and returned to where I started, now about 200 feet further back in the line.
Just as I approached the front, the volunteers directed full marathoners to board the train instead. This was not so much a train as a rolling railroad museum, dedicated to rail travel of long ago. Not sure if you've noticed but folks are a lot taller and wider now than they used to be. Four dudes cramped into two facing benches wasn't comfortable for anyone.
As you might also imagine, this wasn't exactly high-speed rail: The trip took every bit of an hour and dumped us near the starting line with just 40 minutes until the race. That was just enough time for me to unintentionally cut into the port-a-potty line (sorry, folks), take a leak and... well, nothing. I had no time to warm up, though even if I did, there really wasn't any room to do anything. A fellow Marathon Maniac stopped me and mentioned I'd missed the group photo, too. What's one more thing to throw me off, I figured.
Hovering near the 3:10 pacer, I heard someone say they didn't like the first 4 miles of the race because there was no room to maneuver. I didn't mind this for the opening mile, but after a while I tried seeking out some open space. I moved over to the shoulder a time or two, but each time I'd get wedged back into the pack, either by spectators or an aid station or some other obstacle.
Finally around the 4-mile mark, I found an opening and got a couple steps ahead of the 3:10 group. At times I felt myself pulling away, so I eased up and let myself fall back to the pacer. This worked for a few miles until I couldn't slow down enough to let those folks catch up anymore. I was feeling strong and untaxed, with the wind at my back, beautiful views of Lake Superior to my left and highly supportive throngs of people on both sides. I didn't need to look to see where I was in relation to the pace group: I'd get a little cheer, and then 20 seconds later I'd hear a big cheer behind me.
I hit the mat at 13.1 in 1:34:45, right on schedule. At each mile marker I compared my watch to the pace band I'd wrapped around my wrist next to it. One after another, they ticked off with me keeping the same cushion against 3:10 pace, though around mile 16 or 17 I could hear the pacer calling out instructions to the group. At mile 18, the group caught me -- but I wasn't slowing down, they were speeding up. By my math I still had a 20-second cushion or so.
As they passed me and pulled slowly away, the stink of a couple dozen stacks of B.O. filled and then left my nostrils. I wasn't having doubts just yet, but when I got to the mile 21 marker and saw that I'd given back 16 of those 20 seconds in that mile, that's when I knew a PR would have to be good enough. I got up the hill at mile 22, shuffled my way through downtown Duluth, then turned back into the wind for the first time and battled through the last mile to the finish, scurrying to get in under 3:13.
I don't know if it was my attitude, my running form, the feeling of the tailwind, or reality -- OK, I know it wasn't reality -- but the vast majority of the course felt like running downhill. Certainly of my six marathons and ultras, this was the easiest course (yes, Tucson is almost all downhill but you have to be prepared for that, plus there's a vicious uphill at mile 25). The one notable late uphill, Lemon Drop Hill at mile 22, only cost me about 10 seconds. Otherwise the rest of the race felt like an easy descent.
Of anything, attitude was probably the biggest factor. Simply put, I had a great time running this race. This is the only thing that goes on in Duluth all year, and folks all along the North Shore come out in support -- and they are very enthusiastic. You wonder how this small city can host one of the biggest marathons in the country, but then you see what they do with it and you understand.
What else... well, the aid stations were outstanding in both concept and execution. They were pretty much all on both sides of the road, with plenty of signage and a familiar table order, with water first and last, bookending Powerade, sponges, ice and whatever else. No mishaps here.
We stayed at the Suites at Canal Park, where my wife had found some guy renting out his condo online. I would highly recommend this if you want to split a place with someone or need to house your whole family. It was an easy walk to the expo and from the finish line. Speaking of which, the expo was not a bright spot -- way, way too crowded. And the finish-line activities? Well, I'm sure they were great, but I just wanted to waddle back to the room since the temperature had dropped from 54 at the start to 48 at the finish and the wind had seemingly picked up.
7:30 pace last .31
OK, WHAT ABOUT THE REAL REASON WE ALL RUN, THE STUFF?
This being the 35th running of the event, everything is plastered with a huge 35: the finisher's shirt, the sling bag and aluminum water bottle we all got, and of course the medal:
You can buy a ticket to the big pasta dinner, but pretty much all the restaurants in Canal Park have all-you-can-eat pasta dinners that night so it's just a matter of preference.
Too Hot to Handle 15K, Dallas, July 10.