Wobbly Knees at Grandma’s Marathon

Grandma’s Marathon is not for knee-knocking old ladies.
Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota was almost 4 weeks ago. And almost 4 weeks and a day ago, I was incredibly pumped to run this particular 26.2 and then dedicate my post-race self into a write up.

But then, quite honestly, I completely zapped my only-human running-writer brain. You see, I faced my very first Marathon Wreckage that day. My first Big Bust. Cramp up City. The infamous Hurt Box. But this Box could fit an entire city’s worth of Puppies-For-Sale… but swap those puppies out for pirañas.

It is a fact that a competitive pool of USA athletes run Grandma’s each year. The course is an excellent beginner’s marathon and potentially-fast for the sure-footed: a point-to-point along Scenic Route 61, the beautiful, usually sparkling, Lake Superior to the left of the surging crowd. Runners make their way from the town of Two Harbors to the iconic Grandma’s Restaurant in Canal Park with photo opps with the also-famous Ariel Lift Bridge. The course has one major climb at the quaintly-named (and certainly sour) Lemon Drop Hill at mile 22, with slight elevation increases otherwise.

You see, it is set up for running success. I believed in it, had every positive bone in my body ready to race it. But the reality is that some race days change on us runners. And with those changes come the tuck and rolls.

The forecast predicted a 60% then 80% chance of rain showers and (even!) thunderstorms that morning. Stubbornly, I ignored this. I am a runner! I declared in my pony-tailed head, Rain’s got nothing on me!

But oh, it did.

Before we even lined up in the corrals, the rain started coming down in those glorious, awful sheets. The starting area had very little refuge from such catastrophe, offering only a parking lot and set of warehouse buildings. Folks laid out beneath cars, hid in the porta-potties blatantly ignoring banging fists on the doors, and scrunched up against the warehouse walls, tiny runner frames barely dry underneath the blip of a roof overhang. I was fortunate enough to meet a Midwestern woman with an umbrella in line at the toilets who gladly shared with me AND then a gentleman beneath the minuscule overhangs who kindly swung his poncho over the left of my body. Although I did everything in my power to stay dry, I got wet. We all did.

The race began and (not-surprisingly because of the type of people we all are) the smiles were there on every face. Excitement. Commitment to the miles ahead. The I’m-so-effing-pumped-UP-ness oozing everywhere that you (sort of) forgot it was raining so bad. And somehow, as we ran through the pulsing of Chariots of Fire, as the train to left of us set off it’s whistle, as the wonderful family members and friends cheered from within the train’s cozy interior, the rain slowed and eventually evaporated into a gray mist.

The race did not go my way. Although I was on pace to PR throughout the first 13.1, my body had other plans for me. The cramping, the bathroom stops, the tugging hamstring— they all contributed to the race. But during that final mile, as I ran through downtown Duluth and started winding my way to the finishline, it was impossible to remember the pain. The towering ship on the Lakeside, the buzzing of crowds alongside the convention center, the sporadic high-fiving, the shouting directly at me…it all contributed to THAT feeling.

You know it if you’ve been there. It’s the warm bubble that surrounds your chest and pushes up around your heart, blocking out all signs of fatigue, doubt, or surrender. That feeling somehow gets you exactly where you set out to go in the first place: to the finishline.

So, yes. I finished. And I did not get the time I desired. But in return, I gained a serious amount of respect for the distance and for my fellow runners. I learned more about what it takes to run the marathon with an intended goal in mind…and fall short. And so, I celebrated it in the moment. I was barely able to walk for almost a week, but I had a stupid happy grin on my face. Because even though the race could have conquered me, I was able to jump out of that Hurt Box like a springed madwoman and wrestle the finish line to the ground.

And even though I couldn’t emotionally connect with the race enough to report back on it right away, I knew that I had grown up a little more in my dirty semi-new running shoes.

Thanks for the love. Run with your heart, xo Babs

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