October 7th found me back at the starting line of the National Masters Marathon Championships in Twin Cities, well trained and ready to take a crack at qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials. My summer had been 2nd to none in terms of performances, and I felt I was riding a wave but uncertain as to when it would peter out. The conditions were the one factor I couldn't control, and unfortunately, were less than ideal. The starting temperature was 72, the highest for this race ever recorded, and would eventually peak at 84, with a dew point of 70. However, I am a heat lover, and was in denial that my race would be affected.
The lineup of women, both open and masters, was impressive. Susan Loken was returning to attempt a three-peat of the masters title, and masters Lisa Vail, Michelle Simonaitis, and Doreen McCoubrie, would offer a challenge for me. Former Russian champions were in the open mix, as well as Kim Pawelek and Mary Akor, both sub-2:40 runners.
I had a good warm up, my legs felt springy and strong. I enjoyed NOT feeling cold at the start. The horn blew, and off we dashed. I waved to Brian, who I would not see again until the finish, and set my mind on the task ahead. "Don't get in a hurry, just relax, and cruise through the first mile." Susan had gotten out to a quick start and disappeared, and I could see Lisa and Michelle close in front of me. Before mile 1 I had passed them both, and Doreen had passed me. My first split was 6:21, slower than I expected. The course soon took a turn with some nice downhill then uphill, and I went through mile 2 in 6:16. The friendly crowds were lining the streets, and we were serenaded by a tuba while cruising downhill in mile three. I was trying to feel comfortable, keeping the small climbs under control, but stretching out on the flats and downs. Uncharacteristically, I was dripping with sweat. Mile 3 split - 6:33. Hmm. Not bad, but a little concerning. In mile 4, we hit the first of many lakes, Lake of the Isles. Beautiful tree-lined streets were the theme of this race. In this flat section, I clocked another 6:19. My body felt strong, but there was a certain amount of labor that didn't exactly feel comfortable. I felt slow.
Mile 5 in 6:24, brought us to the next lake - Lake Calhoun. I was gaining on a young woman with whom I had spoken the day before. She had planned on trying to qualify for the trials in Chicago, but made a quick decision to come to the Twin Cities to avoid the heat. I knew she was struggling already, drenched in sweat. We both picked up our bottles from the aid station table, but she didn't regain, and she eventually dropped out of the race. I swigged as much from my bottle as I could, and forged on. I was soon caught by another master. We ran together for awhile, but I couldn't stay with her. I latched onto a runner whenever possible so as not to be working alone. Mile 6 came - 6:29, and I was feeling a bit glum, as it was a slightly downhill mile. We hit the next lake, Lake Harriet, and I was passed by a new acquaintance from Washington, Cliff, who spoke encouragement to me. I ran with him for a bit, but again, couldn't keep up.
Mile 7 split was 6:30. I grabbed my next available bottle and sucked it down. I was soon passed by another gal, in light blue, looking very strong. We exchanged encouraging words, but she was soon out of sight. Mile 8 (6:29) brought us onto Minnihaha Parkway, a long road along a creek, lined by beautiful homes, trees, and fans. At this point I started thinking about my next marathon. I know myself well enough that it would take a miracle to start running faster. I was convinced that I had not done enough marathon pace training, and that was reinforced with my mile 9 (slightly uphill) split of 6:36. Mile 10 was slightly faster, back at 6:29, but the overall time was 1:04. Quick math and I knew that even if I could repeat that 10 mile split and have 2:08 at mile 20, a final 39 minute 10k was beyond reason.
I continued the hard work. My time was out the window, but I still had folks to race. Mile 11 came in 6:37. I grabbed my fluids again, and also a bottle of water which I poured down my back, front and my head. I drank my fluids, and turned onto a slight uphill grade in the bright sun, slight wind, and ran my slowest mile yet - 6:51. I felt like I was crawling. Over a bridge and then onto Lake Nokomis, I gained a little speed and hit mile 13 in 6:39. I was focusing on getting to mile 15, where the flattest and fastest section was. Just before mile 14, I felt the need for the loo, spotted one and ran off course to find it occupied. I decided to run to the next one, and my 14 mile split was 6:57. Up ahead I saw the familiar form of Kim Pawelek, well into her death trot. I hit mile 15, finally, in 6:46, and felt ready to at least maintain some sort of regular pace. I passed Kim, who said she was having side-ache issues, spotted a port-a-potty, and dashed inside. I don't think I was there more than 30 seconds, but had to re-pass Kim. Mile 16 split 7:05.
The fans were still amazing. Over and over again I heard "Go Sunsweet! Go red shoes!" I got news that I was 13th female overall, and was stunned. I felt like I was running 9 minute miles, but miles 17 and 18 were still under 7 minutes. Just before mile 19, I saw the masters woman who had passed me early on. I believed that she was slowing more than I, and then she ran off the course into the meridian and stopped. As I ran by I held up my hands, questioning her. She waved and shrugged in resignation. I later learned that she was recovering from an injury, but couldn't pull it off today. Mile 19 had us crossing the Mississippi River, and my split was 6:54. Unbelievable.
Now the crowd was even more intense. I cruised along to mile 20 in 6:59, seeking shade rather than running the tangents. I was still dousing my head when I could. The serious climbing of this race began after mile 20, and now in 12th place, I could see number 11 female falling back. I kept steady, hit mile 21 in 7:07 (not 10:00?). I looked off the course for a split second, and when I looked ahead, the gal had disappeared. I can only assume she dropped, and left me in 11th place. I wondered which masters were still ahead of me, and wondered if Michelle or Lisa had run a smarter race and were going to bury me on this section. Miles 22 and 23 are the slowest on this course, and I managed to run them in 7:28 and 7:34. I was picking off men runners left and right, many of them reduced to walking. Mile 24 offered a bit of reprieve with slight decline, and I actually ran 7:03. Someone reported to me that I was 3rd master, which was good news to me. I realized that with all the dousing I had done in the humid conditions, my soaking wet shorts were sagging in an almost faddish style, and I had to keep tugging them up.
Mile 25 was also not too bad - a slight incline, but I could taste the finish. Off to the right, Brian was yelling for me - he had come looking for me, and he coached my to keep my legs moving. I was fully expecting him to run beside me on the sidewalk I was going so slow, but my split was 7:10. There was a slight crest ahead, and from the top, the finish area was in sight. As I topped out, I was joined by another female runner. GULP! Where did she come from? Thankful for the downhill, I put the hammer down. I pushed near to the point of expiration, waiting for her to sail by. I couldn't tell where she was, so I pushed hard again, and held her off by a whopping 2 seconds. I actually felt a little silly, but it was a race. She was very gracious, and complimented me with "I can't believe you are 45!" and I had to tell her the truth of my age. And she is the age of my daughter!
My final time of 2:57 originally did not feel so special, but as reports came in of DNFs, slow times, and overall inability to handle the humidity, I felt like I hadn't done so bad. Either my base or the fact that I wasn't able to pound out the fast miles, I experienced very little soreness or fatigue in the following 3 days. I am back at it and looking forward to giving it another try on December 2nd at CIM.
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