Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon 2015 - Recap

*Warning - this post is long and has lots of picture!

       Well, another Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon (AKA Grandma’s Half) has come and gone!  This was my 4th year doing this race, and my 7th Half Marathon ever.  You may remember I posted that 7 is my lucky number and I was hoping it was a good sign.   I also mentioned feeling strong and like this might finally be the time for a new Half Marathon PR.  (Umm, or maybe you just stumbled in here having never heard of my blog before, in which case I would encourage you to go back and read because I am super awesome).  Then, being both a typical woman and a typical nervous runner, I started having mood whip-lash and decided that my training was not that fantastic after all, and a PR was unlikely.   

        A couple of weeks before the race, I started having an issue with my knee.  Sharp twinges.  It felt okay while walking and during the course of a normal day, but acted up as I was running.  Sometimes it would be a twinge every time my foot hit the ground.  Other times, it didn’t hurt BUT only because I could feel myself involuntarily changing my gait.   And that, as most runners know, only leads to more issues!   So, in light of this knee annoyance, I decided to pretty much take the entire week off before the race. The only thing I did was test out my knee with a walk/short intervals of EASY jogging on Thursday morning.  Let me tell you – when that felt good, I had such an urge to run.  But I avoided the temptation knowing that the rest had been working, and the last thing I wanted to do was go backwards just 2 days before the race.  So I stuck with the plan and mostly walked on that beautiful early morning

       On Friday, I headed up to Duluth with a crew of awesome fellow MRTTers – Ashley, Erin, Linda, and Paula.  Like last year, we decorated the vehicle with our Grandma’s and MRTT pride.

Upon arriving to Duluth, we first hit the grocery store real quick, and then headed to our apartment at UMD.   Side note - If you ever consider running Grandma’s, definitely look into getting an apartment with others.  Friday/Saturday night costs just over $400 total. Split that between 4 people (there are 2 bedrooms, each with 2 beds) and you have yourself a significantly cheaper crash pad than renting a hotel room would be.  As much as I love Grandma’s, the hotel prices sure get jacked up sky high for the weekend.  But then again, why not – they sell out.  Huge money maker!  That’s business. Anyhow, the UMD apartments are fantastic. Yeah, it’s no luxury hotel but it’s cheap, and you have access to a full kitchen which is nice. Plus, UMD is a central hub for shuttles the entire weekend.  Not only is it one of the points for grabbing a bus to the start line on race morning, but the busses run back and forth every 15 minutes or so,  up until well after midnight,  to/from Canal Park for the entire weekend.  And it’s free.  The convenience of not needing to deal with traffic or parking the whole weekend – well, it’s worth it right there.

        UMD rave over.  After checking in and hauling in our stuff, we headed right back out for dinner (reservations at Grandma’s!).  Then it was a quick trip to the Grandma’s office to get a bleacher pass for Linda’s husband, and that ended up being awesome because we ran into GRANDMA HERSELF!

        After getting a photo with the extremely sweet and charming Grandma, we headed to packet pick up.  That was uneventful – just navigating the crowds and checking out the various vendors at the gigantic Grandma’s expo.  The excitement in the air, even the evening before, is just awesome! After we were finished at the expo, we took advantage of a quick photo op with the lift bridge behind us and then hopped a bus back the UMD.


       Back at the apartment, it was prep time.  Laying out our “flat mamas” is an MRTT tradition, but serves another purpose other than just fun and pictures for social media.  It’s a great way to ensure you aren’t forgetting anything! 


       We chatted, snacked, hydrated, taped up what was ailing us (for me, I used KT tape on my knees just for some extra support given the issue I had been having) and headed to bed.  Out of the 5 of us, 4 did the half marathon and the shuttles to the start ran between 4:45 and 5:15.... so that’s an early morning!

        I slept decently until a car alarm went off at around 3:45. It was only 15 minutes until my alarm was to go off, but annoying nonetheless.  At 4:00, we all got up and the next hour was spent dressing, checking and re-checking our sweat bags and gear, eating, fueling up or drinking coffee to “get things moving”.  Finally we made the walk over to the shuttles (after saying good bye and good luck to Linda, our one roomie who was doing the full marathon which didn’t start for another 1.5 hours after the half).  The weather was cool-ish but comfortable, for once not foggy, but a little muggy…and there was a threat of thunderstorms, gusty headwinds, and heavy rain.  Talk about nerve-racking. 

       The shuttle line was long.  In previous years, we never had a problem.  We must have arrived later than usual though, because we waited quite awhile to get on a bus.  We had it in our head that the race started at 6:45, so when we arrived at the starting area at 6:00 I headed right for the bathrooms after dropping off my sweat bag. I was thinking my timing would be just fine, even with the wait for a port-a-potty.  Imagine my shock and panic when I realized the race started at 6:15!  At first, I figured I could wait it out with the many others who were still in line, knowing how many thousands of runners had to get going anyhow and that it takes several minutes.  But even still, once I knew it had started, I could feel myself getting antsy.  So I abandoned the bathroom line, crossing my fingers that the decision wouldn’t come back to bite me (spoiler alert: it didn't).  At this point, the weather was still holding out.

        Almost right away, a fellow MRTTer, Sara, found me.  We then spied Ashley, so we caught up to say hi.  Ashley had a little faster goal in mind, so we wished her well as she sped on up.  From then on, it was Sara and I.  We would end up staying together until late in the race.

        My plan was simple – stay positive, don’t go all out in the beginning.  SAVE ENERGY so that I could pick up the pace towards the end.  I ended up doing the first mile at about a 10:00 pace, which was roughly what I had in mind. Perfect! However after that, I started getting down more around the 9:30's on average.  It felt super comfortable, not like I was working too hard to do it, so I just went with it even though none of my longer training runs had been that pace so early on.

       Sara and I trudged along. I told her my plan and my desire to keep my pace in check in order to save energy, and there were a few times that she helped me do just that.  I was very thankful to have her to run with, because it was just a great distraction.  I have never actually run that many miles of a race with a person – the closest was when I ran 6 or so with my sister in law at Women Rock one year. And maybe not coincidentally, those 6 miles were pretty awesome too. Maybe I am onto something here – I do better finding someone to run races with rather than going it alone. 
At mile 7, I started feeling a slight twinge in my knee.  Rather than getting worried, I stayed positive. I kept myself distracted by chatting with Sara and taking everything in around me.  It worked!! Within a half mile or so, the twinge was gone.  I continued on, still feeling very positive. The weather was mostly holding out – early on, we heard a couple of distant rumbles of thunder but that was it.  It did rain a little off and on throughout the race, but never any heavy downpours. Actually, what rain did come down felt pretty nice!  The wind was calm.  I already knew I had a definite shot at a PR, but still wasn’t about to count my chickens before they hatched.  I just focused on the fact that I felt awesome and was having a great time.

       At one point, we came around a fellow MRTT friend, Morgan. She was doing AMAZING and I felt very inspired by her being she is 20+ weeks pregnant!  We ran with her for awhile and that was a nice distraction.  Eventually I found my legs itching to go slightly faster, so I went with it. Sara caught up with me shortly after and we continued on.  I got a good look at the trolls that line the curb at one point in the race, which gave me a smile. I stole the below picture from Linda (thanks Linda).

       Around mile 10 or so, Sara hit up a water stop and we ended up separated for the remainder of the race.  I kept looking behind me for her, because having company was helping me so much until then, but I couldn’t see her. She wasn’t far because she ended up finishing less than a minute after me, but she just far enough that I am sure she blended in or was blocked from my view by other runners.

        So from there on out, I was on my own.  Despite losing my partner in crime, I was still feeling positive and strong.  I found myself singing at one point and I just felt plain good. I decided to try and "pick it up" a little, although being the end of the race I was definitely putting more effort into less results! But still, I was maintaining my stamina and having fun.  At mile 11-12, I did start to feel the fatigue set in, but that is also around the time that the cheering spectators really get thick, so that helped keep me going.  By mile 12.5, I was feeling amazing and ready to finish strong!  The end of the course has a lot of turns, so it’s a bit of a mind fuck (excuse the language but that’s the best way to describe it!).  But at least I am familiar with the course, so I knew to expect it.  As I came around the very last turn before the finishing stretch, I knew I had it in me to finish strong like I wanted. I also knew I had a PR in the bag, and realizing that it was going to be a significant one helped give me another push.  I picked up the pace, set my sights on the finish line, and took off.  

       My official finishing time was 2:05:31, which is a 4 minute, 50 second PR from my now-second-best time of 2:10:21, which was Grandma’s 2013.  I was just never in the shape to have a half marathon PR in 2014, but I am happy to have redeemed myself in 2015!

My splits worked out as follows (per my trusty Fitbit):
Mile 1 - 10:06
Mile 2 - 9:32
Mile 3 - 9:30
Mile 4 - 9:38
Mile 5 - 9:31
Mile 6 - 9:08
Mile 7 - 9:32
Mile 8 - 9:38
Mile 9 - 9:15
Mile 10 - 9:27
Mile 11 - 9:03
Mile 12 - 9:19
Mile 13 - 9:32
And finished out the remainder at 9:01

       After crossing the finish line, I received my medal (which is awesome, by the way – shaped like Lake Superior in honor of the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon’s 25th anniversary) and got my shirt. Over the next hour or so I chatted with various people, wandered around with Ashley, and of course – ATE and DRANK.  For whatever reason, orange juice was calling my name and I quickly slammed down 2 glasses of it.  Once we caught up with Erin and Paula, we headed back to UMD.  We were wet with sweat and rain, and got freezing cold REAL quick. 

       Back at the apartment, it was just showers and food. The other ladies were staying another night while I had to head back home to attend a benefit, so they took naps while I hooked up with my sister in law and her family (including her husband who did the full marathon) to hitch a ride home, as they were heading back to attend the same benefit.   And that concludes my fantastic Grandma’s 2015 experience!  See you in 2016, Grandmas!

2015 medal and race bib

Four years of Grandma's Half finisher shirts! Left to right:  2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

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