I enjoyed so much about this race - so let's get to the details...
Pre-race. Loved the town of Duluth. Stayed at Sheraton, which was located in a perfect part of town. I was maybe about a mile walk to the race expo; about 3 blocks from the race morning bus pick-up; and perfectly located near some of the most delicious looking restaurants. I mean, seriously, Duluth has some fantastic dinner options available. It was too early to check into the hotel, so I ventured off to the expo. I don't know if I'm getting burned out at expos or maybe my expectations are impossibly high, but Grandma's was just so-so. Kind of overly crowded, space-wise, and I wasn't in the mood to add to my running wardrobe. I did, however, buy a pair of compression socks. Loved them! The expo packet was the only disappointing part about the overall race experience. It was full of local race brochures...and nothing else! No samples of Clif bars, lara bars, chapstick, not even an ink pen! I mean, it's hard to top the Cleveland race packet, but an effort maybe? Having a little time to kill, I grabbed a quick lunch at Amazing Grace for a turkey sandwich made with fresh bread and served with a side of carrot sticks. How awesome! Afterwards, I darted off to take the tour bus to check out the course. The course description was pretty accurate - rolling hills with only one really tough hill coming at you at mile 22. Dinner was in my room and then just some serious chillaxin :)
Race Morning. Woke up unable to really hold down food. Ate a little of my bagel/PB and made sure to hydrate. I wasn't nauseous - just felt too full to eat anything...weird...just plain weird. We had to be at the bus stop between 5:30-6:00 a.m. Buses were running about every 10 minutes or so, but I wanted to make sure I didn't cut it close so I erred on the side of caution arriving around 5:35 am. Since it was a point to point race, we rode a school bus (how cool - when was the last time you rode a school bus?). Now wouldn't you just know it that the guy who plopped down next to me spoke very little English. So much for having a little nervous pre-race conversation! I barely understood where he said he was from! The race morning had a cold wind with a sky that looked like it was going to break loose with some seriously cold, damaging rain. Instead, about 10 minutes before the race start, the cloud cover moved and opened up to a wonderful day. The race temps started in the 60s and we finished with high 70s at the end. Best of all, at the end of the Star Spangled Banner, two jets flew overhead and it was just amazing....simply amazing to see.
The first few miles were uneventful. I was focusing on keeping a nice steady pace. The last marathon I ran, I did a terrible job of running consistent splits. In hindsight, I think I started out too conservatively in this race because I was trying to make sure I had plenty left in the tank for the last few miles. Go figure. Miles 6-15 were just breathtaking. The course was run on Scenic Highway 61 right along the Lake Superior shoreline. I can't even describe the beauty I saw. I stopped at several points along the course and took pictures. I wanted to remember everything and it was worth losing a few minutes of time for the snapshots I got. Miles 18-20 were a bit boring because we began crossing over to a busier highway, but then we found ourselves in the downtown area for the last 5 miles. It was about here that I switched from powerade to ice cubes and just crunched and hydrated. Stomach was revolting and I was not going to let it win. I stayed very consistent for the first 15 miles, then started thinking, "wow, this is a long race." Come on, who doesn't have that thought while running a marathon. Mathematically, I know the distance and can add and subtract with skill and accuracy (with or without a calculator, thank you very much). But sometimes, you just have to wonder what you were thinking when you paid that $80 to get the t-shirt! Kept plugging along till I hit Lemon Drop Hill at mile 21. Interesting story: neither the road or the hill are actually called Lemon Drop. Rather, it was a famous Duluth restaurant (no longer in business) on that stretch of the road. I walked the hill. Yep, I walked...me and about 100 other damaged runners walked about a three-fourths mile stretch of the course. But don't worry, I pulled it together and hobbled on since my goal was incapacitation...and I could still trot at this point! For the next 3 miles I channeled my inner Jeff Galloway and ran 4 minutes/walked 1 minute, which worked quite nicely. When I approached the mile 25 marker, I came across this sight. I.HAD.TO.STOP! What?! Belly dancers? Overweight belly dancers?! I did what any self-respecting runner would do with an iPhone. I stopped at the side and snapped a shot. Mile 25 may be my favorite! It gave me a good laugh for that final stretch. Thank you mile 25 ladies! The final stretch was tough because we were routed around several twists and turns, which was a bit deflating. But I rallied, sprinted, and made it with a 5:15 finishing time! Woohoo - a PR by 35 minutes and 44 minutes better than my last marathon attempt. Very happy.
Post-Race. Gathered up my medal (very very nice), got my space blanket (the guy wrapped it around me and said "Now that's a wrap!" lol), grabbed my t-shirt (a medium, thank you weight loss!), and my free drink ticket. I am a huge fan of post-race drinks!
For food, I grabbed several strawberries (mmmm), chugged a half glass of orange juice, a couple Pearson's nut rolls (for the flight home), and the mint chocolate chip ittibitz ice cream (only had a couple bites...wanted the beer more). I managed to wander over to the Michelob tent, grabbed myself a Michelob Light and plopped down to the band. What a great band. They did a Johnny Cash cover, moved on to Charlie Daniels Band, some Aerosmith, and then some honkey tonk music. Loved it. Began making my way back to the hotel, grabbed a latte for recovery (sounds good to me), then off to get this stinky body clean. A shower, a nap, clean clothes and I'm golden.
Great mexican dinner on the deck overlooking the lake, and a little shopping excursion for jeans (I overindulged with a pair of Citizens for Humanity jeans)...so so wonderful of a day!
I received the best advice from Karen before I ran my first marathon. She told me to enjoy the experience, enjoy the crowds, enjoy the course and to be happy that I got there - to enjoy the crowds and the whole race experience. In Duluth, I certainly did just that. I managed to greatly improve from my last marathon race and I made sure I took the time to enjoy the sights, the crowd, the course and the overall vibe of this wonderful race. And now, I'm not dreading the marathon distance, but rather I'm excited about my next opportunity!