As the horn blasted and everyone took off running, my main thought was: “Shit! I have to pee already!”
Just minutes prior, as I had entered the starting corral after what I thought would be a brilliantly timed bathroom visit, I had semi-jokingly declared that this was going to happen. I either know myself too well or this was the worst kind of self actualization.
Too late to analyze my strategic failings now because, after months of training and years of delays, I was running the Twin Cities Marathon.
That first mile was pure chaos. Before the crowded pack of runners settled into their paces, we ran through the skyscrapers of downtown Minneapolis, which wreaked havoc on GPS devices. Something about signals bouncing off of buildings. I was sure my watch was telling me numbers too good to be true because it insisted I was already a mile in and we weren’t within sight of any kind of mile marker. The thought of my watch beeping at me beeping at completely wrong times for 26 more miles seemed so agonizing that I abandoned my plan of tracking splits and I decided to wing it with keeping an eye on my semi-reliable “current pace” estimate. At this point, I saw a porta-biff (yes, that’s what they’re called here… very odd) and abandoned my 8 minute/mile pace colleagues.
Shortly afterwards, I hit the mile marker and confirmed that my watch was nearly a third of a mile ahead. While the meaningless beeps had already been taken care of, I was in for a lot of mental math to figure out how far off pace I was.
Now that I had cut short my bladder’s early betrayal, I started to settle into my planned pace of “somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00 minute miles.” I admit that my legs felt a little heavy from the get go, so it wasn’t really a surprise that my “a hair faster than 8 minute pace” turned into “a hair slower than 8 minute pace” about 10 miles in. After my second bathroom stop at around mile 14, I spent six miles fighting to stay faster than 8.5 minute pace. Then, at mile 20, when the big bad hill started, it was all that I had to stay below 9 minute miles.
This all might sound like a bad experience, but I am actually extremely proud of this first outing. I finished in 3 hours, 39 minutes, 6 seconds. My final pace average was only 22 seconds per mile slower than my goal. I went in not knowing what to expect out of myself and made a solid showing while learning a lot about how to improve.
The main thing I tried to remember through the entire ordeal was to enjoy myself. Every single point on the course had people who came out with signs, water, and music to cheer on thousands of complete strangers along with (maybe) one or two people they actually knew. I ran through cities, past museums, around lakes, along rivers, and over bridges. I was hurting pretty bad by the time I got to mile 17, where Britt was waiting with a camera, but I was smiling. I was smiling at mile 21 when I passed her again. I was smiling when I went through mile 23 where dozens of my Mill City Running teammates waited to scream their heads off at anyone wearing a team singlet, making for the loudest, rowdiest section of the course, right when I needed it the most. And I was smiling when I crossed that finish line.
Every time I felt like getting negative, I looked around to see the amazing community I have found, read some funny signs or waved at someone dancing in a taco costume, and reminded myself that I’d put too much effort into this to have a shitty time doing it.
After I crossed the finish line, I spent my remaining willpower to pick up the clothes I had checked at the race expo and collapsed on the State Capital lawn. I was able to send some texts and post some selfies, but brain fog is a real thing after running for hours. For the life of me I could not figure out, on a map, where I could find a metro stop so I could take the train back to where Britt was waiting for me. After I summoned the fortitude to start walking, things got a little better even though the volunteer I finally found informed me I was going the wrong way. By the time I made it to the train stop I was able to walk and chat with other finishers.
In my pre-race hubris, I registered for Grandma’s Marathon, the other large race held in Minnesota. So in June of next year I will run another 26.2 miles along the north shore of Lake Superior and, weather permitting, this one won’t take as long. There will be plenty of time to reflect on how I might improve or how to rev up my training plan. For now, though, I’m taking a few weeks to run a bit less without being beholden to a rigid training plan, and enjoy the fact that I can finally say that I’m a marathoner.