Twin Cities Marathon is traditionally the USATF Master's Championship race, and this year it was the Open Championship as well. I have run this race twice, and enjoy the course very much. The women's field was very tough - Marla Runyon and Heather Hanscomb both heavily favored in the open field, and Susan Loken in the Masters.
The prelude to my performance was as different from my norm as could be imagined. A large, benign tumor had been discovered and removed from Brian's brain less than 2 weeks previous, my daughter left for college and we had to move from temporary housing to her studio the day we flew out, and my 97 year old grandmother passed away. My priorities and focus were definitely shifted those 2 weeks. Fortunately, everything was fairly stable by race weekend, and Brian's recovery was so quick, he was able to make the trip (although he did have to wear a hat the whole time). However, I wondered how the stress would affect the race outcome. I believed my training to be as good as ever, and I was hoping for an Olympic Marathon Trials qualfier (2:47).
The weather was darn near perfect - clear skies, in the 50's to start, and a slight breeze. I warmed up with a 15 minute jog, hooked up with my dad so he and Brian and Mary Hannah's sister Catherine could chase Mary and I around on the course. I headed to the start line with the others, ran some strides, then waited for the longest 3 minutes to count down.
In championship races involving age groups, competitors over 40 years old are likely required to wear a back tag with their age-group printed on it, so one know who's they are racing. I was taken aback to see my new range '45-49'. When did that happen?
The gun sounded, and we bolted. I saw many women with back tags stride away and thought that this would be a competitive race. There was a bit of head wind, but I felt pretty good. Runners surged, sagged, and tried to find their groove in the first mile. I was running along side a woman in red, and we went through in 6:22. This was a pretty normal first mile split on this course for me, so I was pleased. Mile 2 took us down hill for a spell, then a pretty good climb into the meat of the course - residential or lakeside or parkside for the remainder of the race. Mile 2 came in 6:12, a bit of a surprise as it didn't feel that fast. Another half mile, and we crested to begin some gentle downhill, to the lovely sound of a tuba. I was still running beside the lady in red, and soon began catching some of the master's women. I felt my effort was even, but the next mile was 6:33. Hmmm - maybe more uphill than I remembered. I just kept an even push the best I could, my breathing steady. Mile 4 - 6:16 - good, still on track. At mile 5 I looked for my bottle on the special fluids table, and had to jostle with another runner to get it, slowing down a bit. 6:26. I drank most of the drink, and tossed the bottle, and pushed on. Red and I were still together, and we caught another gal in red, and together with a pack of about 5 men, we came through mile 6 in 6:20. We crossed the 10k mark in 39 minutes, and new gal asked me what the split was. After I told her, she and red dropped off the back.
I kept on working, but my legs were feeling dead. I did not expect this, and hoped it was just a bad spell. I was looking forward to seeing Brian and dad at mile 7, but amidst all the clamor from the sidelines, I missed them. I hit mile 7 in 6:24, and mile 8 in 6:25. The course continued to gently roll, around the lakes and through parks, with spectators never letting up. I high fived kids, and tried to find a happy place. Mile 9, 6:33. I grabbed my second bottle from the table, drank and tossed. I was aware of only 2 women masters ahead of me - Susan Loken and Michelle Simonitis. As my times drifted slower, I mentally struggled with wanting it to be over, and willing my stride to be longer. Mile 11, 6:32 - sort of hanging in there, mile 12 - 6:44. Ugh.
Mile 13 came in 6:33, and the half-marathon split was 1:24. The only way to get a qualifer would be to negative split. Not likely, but keep pushing, none-the-less. Mile 14 (6:45), I spotted Brian and dad cheering for me, and I was in need of the port-a-john. I yelled to Brian, "I'm tired!" and he just smiled and said "You look great!". I passed the john, and thought I would get the next one.
I struggled onwards, to the various course entertainments (drumming, rock, small bands) and the many cheers for my sponsor Sunsweet. "Go Sunsweet - you look strong". Mile 15 - 6:47. The group running was mostly over. I was generally passing or being passed, but it seemed that we were all suffering. Mile 16 - 6:41 (Where IS the port-a-john) and mile 17 (6:46) - I picked up another bottle, and drank until I saw Brian again, and gave it to him. Mile 18, slower yet, 6:54. I expected women to start catching me at any moment. Finally, a port-a-john - a quick stop and my slowest mile - 7:25.
Finally we cross the Mississippi River. My qualifier was in the tank. But my master's race was still alive. I came through mile 20 (6:52) in 2:12, and thought I would at a minimum run under 3 hours. This is where the course does some more serious climbing, and where the men are starting to fade. I began picking them off, one-by-one. At mile 21 (7:05) I see Brian one more time. I know my legs are my limiting factor today, as I grab my last bottle and drink easily from it, rather than my normal race day gasping and choking and I force down the liquids.
As I come up behind runners, we hang together for a few paces. The crowd is trying hard to keep everyone moving. I hear another "Go Sunsweet - you SWEET thing!" and that gave me cause to smile, at least. Mile 22 was uphill, and was 7:31. Mile 23 (7:28), I pass a walking master's man, pat him on the back and say "let's go!" to which he whimpered "okay". I kept on pushing, surging and dying, and made mile 24 in 6:59. One more long stretch with an uphill, mile 25 in 7:11. Finally, a crest and the capital building is in site. I pushed and pulled, and strode the downhill to the finish, overall time in 2:56.
No women had passed me since early on, and I held my position - 3rd master, and first in my new age group. I was disappointed in my time, but glad to be done. The good news is my legs aren't sore and I either learned that stress can substantially impact performance, or I'm just no spring chicken anymore (perish the thought)!
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