This past Sunday, October 3rd I ran in the 29th Twin Cities Marathon which connects downtown Minneapolis to the Capitol Building in St. Paul. Along the way we ran through some of the most beautiful and iconic neighborhoods of the two cities.
Starting at 8:00 in the morning we left from a fenced-in corral on the south side of the Metrodome and traveled down 6th St through an abandoned Minneapolis. Of course, the city wasn’t abandoned, but with whatever passes for urban life early on a Sunday morning held back by barriers and drowned out by cheering fans, it certainly felt like the whole city and each majestic reflection of that frosty sunrise from the solemn skyscrapers existed only for us runners. Supporters lined both sides of the street and all of the intersections throughout downtown and the rest of the course beyond. One ingenious group stood up on the third level of a parking garage on 5th Ave giving them an elevated view of the masses starting the race. I wonder what kind of pictures they got?
We continued south on Hennepin Ave toward Loring Park. The bells from the Basilica of St. Mary were in full concert encouraging us along. I passed a man with a tag on his back that indicated he was over 80 years old and I thought to myself, “I know I’m gonna be hurting at the end of this. I wonder how he’s gonna feel?!” But there he was, trudging along like the rest of us. I actually ducked out of the race for a brief moment at that point to use a Port-a-Potty on the course. Apparently I drank too much water before the start. But you know, as far as first-time marathon mistakes are concerned, I figure over-hydrating has to be about the most benign form I could muster. Anyway, as I rejoined the throngs back on the course I passed the same octogenarian again. I offered him my encouragement and he gruffed in my direction. I’m such a whipper snapper.
The course continued through the Kenwood neighborhood and toward the Chain of Lakes. Around mile 2.5 the Honorable Alan Page, chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and Hall of Fame Vikings lineman, stood on one of the street corners playing his tuba as he has done every year since somewhere in the mid-late 1990s. How fun is that?
During that first half of the race I was so happy. Pure joy. I had a smile the whole time. I pumped my fist at the encouraging crowds. I high-fived little kids. I made jokes with other runners. And I enjoyed the reality that after four months, 65 training runs and 469 training miles here I was finally running a marathon. I mean, who would’ve thought I’d ever run a marathon?
But the whole race wasn’t so carefree. Around two-thirds in — at around the 17-18 mile mark — my quadriceps started barking at me. My legs started getting tired. My smile started to waver. I turned up my music hoping to distract my brain from itself and its thoughts of slowing down, walking or even stopping altogether. I had put together a playlist for that race including some Tom Petty and the Rolling Stones and somewhere between the songs “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Gimme Shelter” I found my groove and got that pep back in my step.
With renewed vigor I caught up with a young woman I had been pacing with earlier. We had briefly chatted around mile 11. She was impressed by how well I was holding up during my first marathon and I was impressed she had qualified for the Boston Marathon (a mark of excellence for any runner) after the 2009 Twin Cities Marathon, her first. In fact I met all kinds of characters throughout the morning. There were a couple of guys dressed up as Twins’ stars Joe Mauer and Carl Pavano (complete with sideburns and mustache, respectively) keeping a running total of who got the most compliments from the crowd. (Mauer was miles ahead.) A woman with taped up hamstrings told a story of how she had to drop her pants in the middle of the crowded marathon expo the night before to receive that treatment. And, while making the gorgeous crossing over the Franklin Ave bridge I met a man who was on his 100th marathon. Can you imagine?
After crossing into St. Paul we found ourselves on the home stretch — the infamous run up Summit Ave to Cathedral Hill. Now I’ve run that stretch many times before, but race veterans couldn’t help to point out how different it would feel after 21 miles of marathoning. I now know how right they were. As the elevation data from my running watch shows (scroll down a bit), that hill stands as a near-criminal offense at that point in the race. Whatever sadist decided to include that stretch … But what are you going to do? Stop? No way. There’s only one thing to do and that is to continue. To persevere. For a couple miles already by that point by legs were tired/sore enough that I didn’t feel I could get the full stride length I was used to earlier in the race. So I focused my mind on my leg turn over, the constant chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug of putting one foot in front of the other. I was the little engine that could. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can …
And it worked. I was passing people on the uphill. I’ve always prided myself for running strong uphill. I don’t have any data to prove that I’m any better than anyone else, but in my mind, hills are the places where I differentiate myself from other runners. And it worked! I was passing people along those final miles. I didn’t stop. I never walked. (Well, I slowed to a walk to drink at the water stations, but even after mile 22 I didn’t stop at them anymore.) I had only one goal in mind: The Finish.
My legs ached. I mean ached! I had never felt them that tired and not stopped to rest before. I knew eventually (days later) they wouldn’t hurt anymore, but that if I stopped at that point I would be kicking myself forever for whimping out at the end. I wanted to run the whole damn race. And as I crested Cathedral Hill and saw the Capitol Building a half mile away I could only think one thing. “Don’t fall on the downhill!” Seriously, that was about my only real concern for the whole race. I knew I would finish, but I didn’t know how my aching, tired legs would deal with the downgrade along John Ireland Blvd. Wobbly legs + downhill can be a recipe for disaster, but fortunately mine stayed beneath me and I “sprinted” to the finish. Success!!
I finished my first marathon in 3:31:30 which I’m very proud of. (Official Results) I finished in the top 15% of all runners and in the 25th percentile of all men in their 30s. And I even stopped to go to the bathroom and pause for a picture near the halfway point. With continued training the future looks bright!
Even though my legs hurt so bad today that it’s hard to walk up and down stairs, I’m already looking toward future races. Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth is definitely in my future, as are likely the marathons in Fargo, Chicago and New York (pending qualification). Who knows, if I keep at it maybe I can shave the 20 minutes I need to qualify for Boston? After finishing Marathon #1, who am I to say where the limit now lies?