Earlier this summer I began excitedly training for Twin Cities Marathon. After a spring filled with running disappointment, I was eager to get back to work and get myself stronger than ever for TCM. I wanted to train differently than I have in the past and follow more of a balanced, listen-to-my-body kind of approach. After many previous training cycles that resulted in injury, I was determined to cross that starting line healthy and strong.
This marathon in particular holds a special place in my heart, but has been a huge thorn in my side too. TCM was my very first marathon back in 2012 and it still stood out in my mind as a magical running day. I have been dying to get back there, but have had to back out of training several times due to injury. I was not about to let injury stop me again, so this training cycle was all about balance and regaining the confidence I had lost during the spring.
A little background …
If you followed my training logs over the summer, you probably remember that training was not going as smoothly as I had hoped. I nursed some aches and pains, spent a significant amount of time rolling around on a foam roller, and taking a lot of anti-inflammatories. I also found I was having a hard time acclimating to the heat and humidity. The endurance problems that haunted me all spring were not improving despite consistent running, and my asthma was a big factor in many of those runs as well. I felt like a walking (literally) excuse for “Why Pumpkin is Failing as a Runner.” It can feel awfully demoralizing when you try to do everything “right” but still come up short.
I survived my short runs for the most part, but subbed in some pool running when I felt my ankle pains flare up. I was pretty consistent with strength and core work in the beginning too. I kept waiting for training to “click,” because the first few runs above 10 miles were incredibly difficult. Lots of stops and walk breaks were starting to darken my attitude towards training. I kept pushing and kept failing. I had to cut long runs short and even had my husband come and pick me up when I was having breathing problems and excessive sweating during an attempt at 15 miles.
By mid-August, I had had enough. I had made a last-ditch effort at cleaning up my nutrition in hopes that would help me feel better. The changes did have a positive impact on overall pain. My inflammation disappeared and I actually haven’t even needed to touch a foam roller since the end of July. My shorter runs were feeling a little better, but still the long runs were total fails. My last run above 10 miles was a 13 mile treadmill run the second week of August.
In my heart I knew I didn’t have anything left to give to this training effort. I became resentful towards training and the marathon and just running in general. I decided I wanted to salvage what was left of my summer and spend weekend mornings doing long bike rides with my cycling friends rather than suffering alone on some terrible long run attempt. I kept up some shorter runs on the weekdays but long runs were off the table.
But ohhhhh that marathon. What about that $165 marathon that is seemingly jinxed for me? Though I was willing to admit I couldn’t continue training, I was very unwilling to let go of that race. I felt good physically, as in, no structural problems in my legs, ankles, feet. Asthma and overall endurance were still mysteriously broken, but I kept coming back to the thought of just showing up on race day and seeing what happens. Good idea? Not even a little bit. We all know the dangers of jumping into a marathon undertrained. Was I willing to listen to common sense? Not really. Twin Cities Marathon was a monkey on my back and I was convinced that even my worst day at TCM was still better than staying home and not trying at all.
And that is how I found myself at the starting line of Twin Cities Marathon on October 1.
Race weekend began Saturday afternoon, on a solo road trip to the Twin Cities. I drove straight to the race expo for packet pickup and grabbing freebies from vendors. Upon walking into the expo, all doubt about this plan disappeared completely. I breathed in the energy of that room and for the first time actually felt excited and happy about the race.
I had absolutely no baseline for what I was capable of, so my only race strategy was:
- Show up
- Run as long as I can,
- Walk when I couldn’t run, and
- Beat the guy who sweeps people off the road when they’re about to close the course.
I lovingly called this plan #beatthesweeper. The cutoff for TCM is 6 hours from the time the last person crosses the starting line. Being in the last corral, I positioned myself near the front of that corral to buy myself a few extra minutes. A 6 hour marathon, for those who would never even need to do that kind of math, is a 13:44 pace. I felt semi-confident that if I could run for awhile and then do a run/walk strategy then I should be able to finish in under 6 hours. But really, I just didn’t know what my body was going to feel like. And this is the problem with a busted training: no memory of what it feels like to be on your feet for that long. I accepted that there was a chance I would have to just DNF if I couldn’t make things work out or if I felt any sort of twinge of injury. Again, for me the victory was in crossing the starting line.
I played the weather stalking game as we all do before a marathon. The reports consistently predicted rain, but by Saturday night it looked like rain wouldn’t start until afternoon. Sunday morning I awoke at 4 a.m. to the sound of… what was that? RAIN??? Sure enough, I looked out the window and siggggghhhhh rain. Lots of rain. The radar? Totally green. I realized I had no control over this and started getting ready. I stuck with my plan to wear shorts and a tank top despite the rain, which seemed perfect for the forecast of 58 degrees. I ate some peanut butter toast and packed several more items to eat when it got closer to race time, which wasn’t until 8 a.m.
Logistics required me to leave the house by 5:15 a.m., as I planned to park near the finish line in St. Paul and take the Light Rail into downtown Minneapolis where the race started. Despite my nervousness about screwing up the public transportation plan, that all went off without a hitch. I arrived in Minneapolis by 7 a.m., which gave me an hour to pee, find bag check, pee again, and get to my corral. It was around this time that I realized I forgot to grab my pack of gum. I ALWAYS chew gum on the run and this was maybe the most distressing thing that happened to me all morning — even more distressing than the rain that kept starting and stopping.
Having no shame and no problem advocating for my needs, I looked for the first person I saw who seemed to be chewing gum. I found my savior in the porta-potty line. A very kind woman generously shared her last piece of gum with me and the panic was over. The rain had stopped by the time I got to the corral and I gave myself a little pep talk. I kept repeating in my head, “Go have fun. Have ridiculous amounts of fun. #Beatthesweeper.” As I finally got across the start around 8:15, I did so with a giant grin across my face.
And so I just started running easy. I wasn’t going to get caught up in the excitement of the first few miles and go out faster than I could handle. I knew my energy stores were going to be limited anyway, so my plan was just to run as easy as I could for as long as I could. My fueling strategy for this race was, well, not very well planned. I bought some Clif Shot Bloks at the expo the previous day with the loose plan to eat a couple every 4 miles or so and then alternate Powerade and water at the aid stations. Past marathons have been a complex matrix of calories and miles and intensely calculated, but this race was more like “Um, what random glucose carrying agent will fit in my Spibelt on Sunday?”
I got passed by Santa Claus at mile 1 and by Spiderman at mile 2, which, you know, is a little embarrassing. Nevertheless, I stayed the course and just soaked up the energy around me. Twin Cities Marathon is touted as the “most beautiful urban marathon,” and it’s completely accurate. The course is spectacular, with lake views, historic neighborhoods, trees in all of their Fall glory, and incredible course support. I ran with no attention paid to my Garmin and no awareness of where the pace groups were located. I was surprised at how good I was feeling and how long I felt that way. I was running in a rhythm I hadn’t been able to harness for months, which was a pleasant surprise! The rain was holding off, but the trade off was higher humidity. I worried about my asthma flaring up, but wasn’t noticing any difficulties.
I was having a great time but was kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Around mile 9 I looked to my right and was shocked to see the 5:00 pace group. I had been so focused on NOT paying attention to where I was at that I honestly figured I was somewhere back by the 5:30 group. Naïve mile 9 Pumpkin had that momentary lapse in sanity and thought “MAYBE I CAN PR TODAY!!!” My marathon PR is 5:15 — at this point I was more than ahead of pace for that!
We can all guess what happens from here. I hung close to the 5:00 group but by mile 13 I had faded significantly. At this point I had still been running with very few walk breaks, mostly just through the water stations. I knew my body had little left to offer, and I could feel my glutes were completely fatigued. My legs weren’t hurting, but they really just had no energy in them. I started walking a lot more, started pulling over to the side to stretch, and accepted that there was about to be a lot of walking in my future. And what else did my future have in store? A lot of rain.
Miles 15-26.2 were basically a power walk through a steady rain and I was completely okay with this! I knew I had bought myself a lot of time by running much longer and faster than I thought I would, and doing some quick math calculations in my head, I was certain that even if I walked the entire final 11 miles, I would cross the finish line well before the 6 hour mark.
Did I have several moments over those next 11 miles where I considered dropping out? Absolutely. The rain didn’t relent and because I have Raynaud’s, my fingers and toes were completely numb. For some reason though, all of this struck me as hilarious. I laughed to myself at the ridiculousness of my current situation and felt like I was surrounded by kindred spirits who also seemed to be riding the struggle bus. I threw in some jogging here and there, but honestly seemed to be holding a faster pace by power walking than those who were jog/walking. Jalking? Woggling? My walk splits were around 14:50/mile, which, after 15 miles of undertrained running and the final miles of the marathon being mostly uphill, I was pleased with my speedwalking pace.
I sang along to the music on my iPod, I chatted up the people around me, and I thanked the volunteers who were cheerfully manning the aid stations in the rain. I cheered THEM on for impressive cup holding and water pouring. They all seemed sort of shocked that I was in such good spirits, since most people around me at this point looked like murder or death was about to happen. The crowd support was beginning to thin those final miles, which was completely understandable given the rain and the wind that had just picked up. I got pelted in the face by beautiful fall leaves and laughed to myself at the realization that I was literally being smacked in the face by autumnal glory. Some hardcore marathon spectator yelled out to me that I was having too much fun, and I think I yelled back about how it was, “So F’ing terrible that it’s awesome!”
And finally, finally, the finish line was in view. I managed to push myself to some sort of pathetic jog the final 200 yards or so and crossed the finish line with a smile and the TCM monkey off my back. I finished in 5:47:47, which is exactly 30 minutes, 10 seconds slower than my first Twin Cities Marathon. In terms of time, this marathon was obviously a PW (personal worst), but this race was without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had in a race.
It’s been about two weeks since the race. Looking back, I stand by the fact that it wasn’t a smart decision to do the race, because of the significant injury risk. There remains a shred of shame that I couldn’t fulfill my training, but I also know that I had nothing left to give in that training cycle. Where I stand with running right now is…. I’m not sure. I think it’s time to step back from training and just let myself run for fun and without a strict schedule or expectations about performance. Part of me wants to run another marathon next fall but a bigger part of me doesn’t want to train for something for a long while.
I ran this morning. It was dark, and it was crisp outside. It was a run completely free of agenda or expectations and I ran faster than I have in a long while. I’m excited for what the future holds for me and my relationship with running. I think we’re casual and I think I’m loving it.