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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Twin Cities Marathon

As a five time competitor in the Twin Cities Marathon, my face has become familiar to the local area committee. As such, my first obligation was to sit on the panel for the press conference. I have enjoyed being in the audience for these in the past as I get insight into some of my competitors as well as the men's field. I was honored to be asked, but a little nervous when the time arrived. I was sitting in a row with Dan Browne, Fernando Cabada, Chris Lundstrom, and Matt Gabrielson to my right, Susan Loken and Tracy Lokken (USATF defending Masters Champions) to my left. The 4 men in the open race were serious, ambitious and ready to make their statements on race day. They each had personal motivation and drive that added excitement for the press - it was looking to be a very exciting race for the men's title. This year's race was the first chance for the men to run a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials for 2012, so there were many other hopefuls on the start list.

A couple of questions came my way, and I answered well enough. The main reason for my presence was the fact that I was running in the World's 100k in Italy in only 5 weeks after Twin Cities, and inquiring minds wanted to know how I trained for both events. My reply of '60 miles every weekend, back to the track on Wednesdays and Fridays' made the moderator tired. Much to my disappointment I was not asked 'what will you do with the money you win' (Take my Sunsweet team to dinner) nor did I have the courage to change any questions to the questions I wanted to answer.

It was a dark, stormy morning, when we arrived at the Church that was rented for the elite athletes. There were plenty of runners to chat with about race plans and paces. I was especially excited to be running with Johanna Olson and Theresa Sorocco this year. This was Theresa's first trip as an elite athlete and I was sure she would run a PR. Johanna was fit and had a solid race plan. My main competitors for the Master's Championship were Susan Loken, Jody Hawkins, Susan Empey, Doreen McCoubrie. Susan Empey had the same time goal of 2:45 as I, and suggested we run together.

Susan Loken, Johanna, Theresa and I went outside the church for our first warm up. It was starting to get light, the rain had stopped, and the temperature was cool. After about 10 minutes, we returned for yet another bathroom stop, do some stretching, change into racing shoes, and bring our drop bags to the truck. On our way out of the church, Theresa stopped to reacquaint herself with Dan Browne. We had thought it was a good omen that he, Theresa, Chad Johnson and I were all racing here for the first time since 2002, when Dan won, Theresa PR'd and I had my fastest time her (2:46). Dan wished us luck.

After the wheelchair racers started, we were free to warm up in the street in front of the start. I ran several strides and felt good enough. I wore a cap, gloves, arm warmers, short sleeve shirt, and knee socks. If I got too hot, I could toss the warm things. For now, the temperature was friendly enough (50), and it was not raining. There was some wind, but the course changes directions often so it probably wouldn't be too much of a problem.

Lining up behind the start, I forgot to look for Susan Empey. I was about 3 deep in the lineup, and when the gun went off I was engulfed and passed by many more rows. I focused on not getting too excited and found myself skipping over and around puddles, until I realized what I was doing and how silly that was. There were LOTS of women in front of me, and I just let them go. Each city block we passed brought in a very strong cross wind, and otherwise we had a head wind. I tried to stay behind or beside runners. Not seeing the first mile mark yet, I glanced at my watch. 6:12. Hmm. Either I was going really slow or really fast. I never did see the mark. I ran up beside Marie Sample and Sheena Dauer and asked if they got their mile split. They also missed the mark. I ran beside them until we came to the first hill. Up we went, into the wind, and I fell off their pace quickly, not wanting to work too hard so soon. Finally I reached the 2 mile mark, 13:00 minutes. Argh. Not quite as fast as I wanted, so I picked it up a bit. Getting into a good rhythm I heard my name from the side, and saw Robyn and Aaron, friends who just moved from Corvallis, and as always, it lifted my spirits.

I pushed to mile three, and was pleased with my 6:08 split. I was also keeping track of my HR, and was holding steady in the 165 range. By now, the rain had returned, and it was somewhat serious. My 5k split was just under 20, so I knew I was close to on pace. I was using the terrain to my advantage (i.e. uncontrolled downhill running whenever possible). Miles 4, 5, and 6 are relatively flat, and I ran 6:35, 6:16, 6:17, and passed through the 10k in 39:30ish. The past two years, I have started to fall a bit flat here, so I was hyper alert, half expecting to fall apart, but I felt very strong. I had been closing the gap on another female master (as is indicated by the back tags with our age group on them) and encouraged her as I went by.

The rain was getting more serious and the spectator crowd was a little thinner than usual. I was usually able to run with somebody, but with the serious weather, niceties were not exchanged. I looked out at Lake Harriett and was surprised to see choppy water. I had missed my fluids at mile 5 but with all the rain didn't worry about it. At mile 7 I grabbed a bottle of water and tried to swig a bit. My heart rate was now in the 170 range, and I still felt in control. Miles 7, 8, 9, and 10 were cold, wet, windy blurs, but I was running 6:13, 6:13, 6:19, 6:19, which put me at 1:03 for 10 miles. I was so pleased that I still felt strong, albeit a bit numb.

Looking ahead, I noticed that Susan Loken was in sight. Either I was having a stellar day, or she was having a bad day. I guessed the latter, based on my time so far. She hails from Arizona and was a bit light on the clothing, so the weather undoubtedly did not favor her. I grabbed a bottle from the aid station and ran up beside her. Offering her a drink, she said "no thanks - just had some". "Are you okay?" She was having intestinal problems, wished me luck, and on I forged. Mile 11 split was 6:14. The rain was still serious and I was soggy. I was glad for the lycra short as they don't hold water, and the mesh in my shoes served me well too.

We now turned into the wind for bit, and I was thinking "I really want to get done and get out of this misery" and also shouting in my mind "I'm trying to hurry Bob!" (referring to my coach who would be at the finish line). Miles 12 and 13 were only a little slower (6:25, 6:21) and I went through the half in 1:23. Although 2:45 didn't seem too likely at this point, I still felt strong. Mile 14 had a roller (6:34) and I recovered for a 6:25 15th mile. My HR was below 170, so I knew I wasn't out of control. About this time, I heard a voice behind me say "Meghan, you run so smoothly!" It was Susan Empey. I expected her to run beside me, but I sensed her pull off to the side and stop briefly. I wondered if she was tight or cramping, and when she would be back with me.

Miles 16-19 are possibly my favorite stretch. It is uninterupted by cross streets and winds along side the Missippippi River. One man I was running either behind, with, or ahead of (we traded positions numerous times) was being cheered by some girls on bikes. I finally caught and passed what I was pretty certain the last master female that was ahead of me. I never expected to be in first, and hoped I could make it last. Mile 16 split was 6:32, and somewhere before mile 17, my left hamstring gave me some small, but sharp cramping sensations. I could have panicked, but kept my wits about me, backed off the pace a bit, focused on form, and kept it at bay. Mile 17 was 6:30, so I felt I would survive alright. Of course, my bowels were screaming at me but I can live with that. Before 18, I tried to lengthen my stride again, and the same cramping would start, so I pulled back for a 6:40, and did the same for mile 19. My HR had come down a bit (166) with the slight slowdown, but I was still in the game.

Crossing the Mississippi River feels like the race is over - I finally made to mile 20! This is where the race gets fairly tough. I was now 2:08 into the race (only 3 minutes slower than goal). Things got a little ugly here, and just as I hit 21(6:46) and grabbed my special fluids bottle, Susan Empey came up beside me. Again, she complemented me on form, and I offered her some electrolytes. "My hands are so numb I can't work them!" was her reply, and she basically left me like I was standing still. It was the first serious uphill and I was tired, but the rain had stopped. "I have other fish to fry" I reminded myself, thinking about the World Cup 100k in just 5 weeks. I started looking for Theresa's brother Tom who would be along this section somewhere, just hoping for a familiar face to distract me from my misery. I noticed my hamstring wasn't bothering me so I opened up my stride, only to have it come right back. Miles 22 (7:16) and 23 (7:18) were long, gradual climbs and a bit agonizing. I finally heard and saw Tom yelling "Go Meghan, Go Meghan". Apparently I looked tired. Go figure.

The aid station at mile 23 had my last special fluids bottle, which I was planning on skipping, but the volunteers were SO EXCITED to see me and started shouting my number out and pointing to my bottle that I felt compelled to pick it up. They cheered wildly at my success. I managed a couple of drinks before tossing it. The course leveled out a bit and I ran 6:50 for mile 24. I think mile 25 has to be the longest mile in any marathon. I was struggling along, HR had dropped to mid 150's and Sheena Dauer blew my me. She was incredible, and I think it was her first marathon so she had held back early on. Mile 25 finally came to me in 6:59, and now I could see the capital building. I pushed and grunted and my hamstring no longer cared. I hit the last screaming downhill at mile 26 (6:32) and finished the last .2 in 91s, for an overall time of 2:51.

Bob was at the finish line and escorted me into the tent. I was anxious to hear how my friends had done, and was stunned to see both Theresa and Susan Loken in the tent, having dropped at the half. Theresa had been shaking uncontrollably from the cold for 4 miles, even after trying to run in a garbage bag. Her decision had been tough on her, but very intelligent. Susan was cheerful, just hadn't been her day. Johanna had not felt good most of the day and came in at 2:50.

I found out soon that Susan Empey had indeed been the USATF Master Champ, and I was second. Overall, 2 Russian Master's came in before me. If you are so inclined you can see a short video from the local news station: but it will only be there for a week. For full race results go to