I thought I would reflect on my first marathon first as I still have fond memories of it.
The adventure began in the fall of 1992 when my buddies and I noticed that the Twin Cities marathon was taking place. We said we should do a marathon (I of course said yes and thought to myself there is no way I can run 26 miles, no way). My running buddy Scott said we should do Grandmas the next summer, I of course responded as any guy would and said sure. We then forgot about until one of us brought it up in late December. Neither of us backed off, which led us to figure out our own training program. It basically went like this, Scott would run 5 miles, I would think I couldn't go 5 and then would do 6. He would then do 7 and of course I would go 8. We did this all the way through our training.
Grandma's takes place in Duluth, Minnesota the third Saturday in June, it is a point to point course from Two Harbors to Duluth. They have a 1/2 and full marathon as well as a 5k. The 5k is the night before and the 1/2 marathoners run the 2nd half of the race. Hotels fill up early, so my pregnant wife, daughter and I ended up staying at the Days Inn in probably the smallest room at the hotel designed for 1 person.
Duluth is a gorgeous town, it's hilly and right on Lake Superior. The marathon packet pickup, spaghetti dinner and finish all take place in Canal Park. It's basically a strip of land that is between Lake Superior and Duluth Harbor (think two entrances - 10,000 runners).
The spaghetti dinner was good and the expo was cool. I was pumped and ready to run, I just worried would I get up in time. The race starts up in Two Harbors and they provide buses to the start line from various spots in Duluth. For this race I was running with two buddies, Scott and Michael who picked me up so I didn't have to worry about the buses. We arrived at the start line which is actually at a Ford Dealer, thousands of runners, hundreds of porta pots, music blaring, what a scene. We dropped off our bags and proceeded into the gate, I now understand how a cow feels. Our plan was to run 8 and 1/2 minute miles. It was a slight stretch for me as I had not run longer than 20 miles and normally trained at a 9 minute pace. I was still thinking can I do the marathon, let alone having a clue about my pace.
We met a guy from Cleveland as we waited at the start line, his name was Ed and he said he had done multiple marathons and he was running the same pace as us. Little did I know what would lie ahead with Ed. The national anthem played, jets flew over, the train started off, the gun sounded and we were off.
At Mile 1, Ed sounded off 8:45 pace not bad but we would need to pick it up. Mile 2, Ed sounded off 8:30 pace, great we were on pace. At mile 2+, Ed sounded off 2 minutes, then 4, then 6, there's the balloon, 8:30 pace. Ed continued to talk and sound off the time, he was driving us all crazy. Around mile 3 you can see the finish line (the lift bridge) and wow does it look a long away. Lake Superior is gorgeous, what a view. Ed kept sounding off the time and then first Michael and then Scott broke off for a restroom break. Around mile 9, I too broke off and was free of Ed.
The race continued for me alone and then I saw Karyn (wife) and Katie (daughter) what a lift. Katie had made a sign with my name and encouragement, it was fun to see them and gave me a huge boost. I said I was doing great and having a blast. It's amazing how good you feel at this stage in a marathon although I was still thinking that I couldn't make it to the end. Ok, just remember, keep going, don't freak.
The miles floated by, around mile 18 you move off of Hwy 61 and onto the entrance to Duluth. I could tell that I was tiring but I was still on pace for an under 4 hour marathon. As I continued my body started feeling different and I could tell I was in trouble. I thought to myself is this the infamous wall, I decided it was more like another room. I tried to do math to figure out what I needed to do to maintain the pace for under 4. Problem was I couldn't do the math but I kept trying as I struggled forward and after finally working out the math I came to the realization that under 4 wasn't going to happen. I was almost completely overwhelmed with disappointment when it occurred to me that I was still running a marathon and I should darn well enjoy it besides I was going to have to make it as Karyn and Katie were waiting for me at the finish. In later marathons, I would joke that I had to finish as my ride was at the finish line.
I continued my struggle through downtown Duluth, each step hurt, I couldn't take in any more water or eat as the stomach was headed south. I then went through mile 25 around the convention center and by the boat, looped under canal park ave and then came around the corner where I could see the finish line. I wanted to sprint it in but just didn't have the energy. I kept moving and as I got closer and the crowd became louder I was able to muster up a final acceleration hobble to the finish. What a fantastic feeling. My first comment to one of my buddies was never again. Later that evening when I looked back on the day, I still couldn't believe it. My buddies started talking about another marathon and asked what about me and all I could say was why not........