Saturday, June 30, 2018

Grandma's Marathon - Race Report

We flew up to Minneapolis Minnesota for Grandma’s Marathon. From Minneapolis we drove 3 hours north to Duluth. My friend Marian recommended a bakery called Tobies for their caramel pecan rolls, something she had frequently as a child when driving from Minneapolis to Duluth. We arrived in MN around 3pm. By the time we got to Tobies, it was around dinner so we had dinner there. I had a Cajun seasoned chicken breast and a baked potato. JP had a flat meatball and spaghetti. AP had walleye and a baked potato. Afterwards AP and I had Caribou coffee and JP had a chocolate glazed donut. At this point I had abstained from alcohol and desserts, so even though it was my birthday I was still on my pre-race diet. JP saved me a bite of his donut, which was just the right amount.

We stayed at the Best Western on the Wisconsin side of the bay. Rooms for this race were impossible to find in February and March of this year. I was happy to find a room on the Wisconsin side. The hotel wanted me to book it for Friday and Saturday night. I used Expedia to book the room on Thursday and Friday night. We planned to stay in Minneapolis on Saturday night since our flight was leaving early on Sunday. It was cold and rainy when we arrived. We checked into our room and stayed there, tired from our day of traveling.

The next day we dressed in long sleeves and rain coats. We had breakfast at the hotel and headed out for our first adventure in the new state. We went across the bridge to the Duluth Coffee Company. I had my usual soy latte and AP had a pour over coffee in a giant espresso cup. Then we headed up the street to the Duluth Trading Company. We spent a while in that store. I looked at shoes, AP tried on pants and JP colored. We left with a tub of lavender scented cream. Then we drove over to the Convention Center  for the Race Expo so I could pick up my packet and also Kaitlyn’s.  As with big race expos there's always a ton of swag. We walked away with a free cowbell, several bags of potato chips, I bought a long sleeved shirt, sticker and an Arbonne sample of massage gel.

Then we set out on the scenic drive along Lake Superior. The drive along Scenic Highway 61 was pretty. It was the first time I had seen Lake Superior. Seeing it was beholding an ocean where there wasn’t one. I was awed, humbled and overjoyed to be in that little rental with my boys. We were headed to Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls




On our way we stopped at Emily’s Eatery. It was right by a sign over Knife River. We sat by the window and watched the rain. Angelo ordered a chicken salad sandwich, JP had a burger and fries and I had a turkey club sandwich on gf bun with fries. Marian informed me that celiac disease is an illness that mostly Scandinavians have. Since there are a lot of Scandinavians in that area, there were lots of gf options. That meal was a brick in my insides. As soon as we reached construction traffic, I went down in the front seat for a nap.

I was still groggy when we arrived at Gooseberry falls. The boys went out to get a look and I stayed in the seat a while longer to rest. After a while, I got up and found the visitor’s center restroom. I met up with the boys at the gift shop. They had walked up to see the falls.  They stayed while I walked to have a look at the falls also.

We decided not to go further to Split Rock since we were meeting friends for dinner at 6pm. We headed back to Duluth anticipating traffic. We stopped at the Mocha Moose  on our way. I was hoping the espresso would help my insides along.

When we got back to the hotel, I read a few pages of Harry Potter – The Prisoner of Azkaban out loud. Then we shed some layers and headed out to meet friends for dinner. They were headed back from Ontario. The traffic to downtown Duluth from I35 and Railroad Ave was a nightmare. JP and I got up and walked to the brewery where our friends were waiting. While AP parked, Mark had a beer waiting for him. AP hates traffic. We were at the Canal Park Brewing Co.

I had teriyaki walleye with a side of veggies and roasted potatoes. I have found potatoes to be a clean carb before a big race. At this point I felt like I had had enough potatoes but every meal was intentional fueling for the race. I stayed on my nutrition course abstaining from alcohol and dessert. After dinner, the kids played on the rocks on the shore. We went to the Waters of Superior Gallery and the Duluth Pack Store. Afterwards, we headed back to our hotel. Kaitlyn was already there. She drove up from Minneapolis having spent time with her family.

I bathed JP quickly for bedtime. Afterwards, Kait and I showered and laid our things out for the next day. We were in bed by 10pm. The boys slept in one bed and Kait and I slept in the bed closest to the bathroom. She brought a cooler with her. It contained hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, bacon and breakfast potatoes her dad had made for us for race morning.

I had tea when we got back to the hotel to warm up. After dinner a fog rolled in from the lake and the temperature dropped 20 degrees. I was freezing when we got back. The tea kept me up. I laid there for a while thinking that I should have gone to the bathroom already and that I should be asleep. I am sure none of those things helped me relax but I thought them anyway. I purposely napped the day before knowing I would not really sleep the night before the race.

My Fitbit alarm woke me at 4am. Kait got up too and we went to the lobby to get coffee. I had 2 shots of French vanilla creamer in my coffee. The sweet and warm cup was awesome. I hoped that with a couple of cups, my insides would void. Kait went to the bathroom and I took the plastic container to the lobby with our breakfast.  I had a PBJ sandwich in addition to the bacon, eggs and potatoes. The PBJ was from the hotel for the runners. The sweetness of the PBJ hit the spot. The coffee worked also.

Photo by Kaitlyn

Kait and I were ready by 5:35 to catch the shuttle from the hotel to the starting line. I spent the first few minute on the bus breathing. When I had done this enough, Kait and I talked about this race as a milestone for us. She was 9 months from having a meningioma removed from her brain. She had just ended a significant relationship, the kind that required a signature, and decided to stay in Louisville. I turned 40 two days prior to the race. In the midst of training for this race, my cousin who battled cancer for 5 years passed.

I had gone to Philadelphia in April of this year thinking I would spend Easter with my parents and cousins. They were the cousins we lived with when we first came to the U.S. They were more like siblings.  A week or so before the trip my cousin Bernie called to inform me that Gerry had decided to stop any intervention because he was no longer responding. Without intervention, his doctors were giving him a few weeks. I cried on the phone sitting on a lawn chair on the sidewalk. My kitchen was being demolished before a remodel.  The noise and dust were impressive. My plan was to spend Easter in Philadelphia while my boys were at the in-laws. I made plans to go up Monday or Tuesday the last week of March. That Wednesday night, Bernie called me. She had thrown her bags in her car having talked to Gerry’s wife, Chris. She said he was acting weird. Bernie trusted Chris’ sense that it was time. Later than night maybe an hour into her drive, Bernie called to let me know he had passed. She felt crushed not being there. I wanted to drive up to Philly also but AP’s good sense told me not to drive.

I slept poorly those days until I could go to the Northeast and be with my cousins. Until I saw that they were calm, joking around, still themselves, I felt like I was okay. I had a chance to help with the funeral arrangements doing little errands for Bernie, Chris, my Aunt and Uncle. I would miss the funeral but I was happy to have done anything to help. I informed our extended family, one less thing they had to do.

I did run once while I was up there. I ran around Chris and Gerry’s neighborhood. At the bottom of a hill I met up with a couple of turkey vultures who ran in the direction I was going. They were massive and freaked me out a little, even though I knew I wasn’t their favorite fare. I turned and ran back up the hill away from them.

I lost time in the weeks after Gerry’s passing. I have been avoiding writing about it but it’s in my training log. The absence of activity in those Excel cells was where I was in my state of mind. I have no doubt this event triggered a depressive episode. I was (and am) a high functioning depressive. I cooked, cleaned, mothered, wife-ed and career-ed but inside I felt nothing. I had little reaction to most things. In those weeks I reached out to Marian, who is familiar with depression. I would text with her to feed me cake the midst of our joking and minutia.  I also reached out to Bernie about my symptoms.

I medicated myself when this persisted over several weeks. I have been on escitalopram for so long that my primary care physicians trusted the increase and decrease of my doses when I needed it. I continued to run because I knew eventually these things would heal me. I don’t take my symptoms personally and I do tell a friend or two when I get on and off my medication for my own safety. If i didn’t, i would probably go to my physician. It helps that Bernie IS a physician.  I can’t pinpoint when it got better but it did.  It helped me mentally to re-adjust my parameters, sizing down so that it was smaller and I could feel self-contained again.

In training for this race, I recognized the miles cumulatively and not just the distance i covered in one day. In the beginning I didn’t allow myself to run more than 20 miles per week. As much fun as I had, I did not want to over train and get injured.  I ran mostly alone at the end of last  year and beginning of the year.  I asked my friend and coach Jeannette about cheering her on during her 100 mile race in Alabama. She told me there was room in their cabin and that it would be great to have me as part of her crew. My leg of her race was 10 miles so i trained to be able to run 10 miles easily. In the spring I trained with my friend and neighbor Lynne in the early mornings before work. As the race grew closer, I made sure the miles added up to 30 or more. I rode my bike, swam and weight trained for variety. My personality likes variety.

Kait and I ran more together before our race, re-establishing our friendship.  I felt a little bit disconnected from her during this training cycle. I thought she was leaving Louisville. I thought she would already be living Minnesota by the time this race had come. I was crushed that I was losing a friend. I thought after her marriage and brain tumor that being surrounded by her family would be best. I didn’t want to say anything to sway her choices. I had no idea that she decided to stay in Louisville, which I thought she hated. I am not sure I shared my feed-me cake state of mind with anyone outside of Marian and my cousin. Regardless of what we did and didn’t know about each other in those months, we kept talking. At some point over coffee we talked about our race strategy.

Grandma’s Marathon became a celebration of life for both me and Kaitlyn. It was about finding our way back to the spaces of ourselves because our actions or race day was proof of what could be done despite the hardships in a life.  

Until I could calm myself on that shuttle, the chatter of the passengers annoyed me. When I was calm, I enjoyed it. The sun was out when we arrived. Kait and I made our way to a spot near the medical tent where we could wait to start. Kait used the potty while I sat on the ground. I went to the porta potties myself while she dropped our bags in bins with our race numbers on it. The bins would be transported to the finish. We walked over to the starting chorale and found the 5 hour pace group. 


So Kait is about 5 inches taller than me, long, lean and strong as hell. I feared I was always holding her back and that my cruising speed during long runs hurt her knees. She said as much during the Horse Capital Marathon. I feared keeping up with her would be impossible. Over a coffee, she told me she would count on me to pace her so she didn’t burn out. I felt better running my normal 11-12 min mile until mile 20 when I thought the racing started.

The start of the race, like any big race was crowded. Like all my long runs, we started at  a 12-13 mile pace to warm up. Watching the racers was a good distraction. It had become overcast when we started so the Lake was obscured for the duration of the race. My nutrition plan was to mimic the way I ate during my 20 mile run. I went off plan 2 miles in and ate a Honey Stinger waffle (my favorite). It was later that morning and few hours since breakfast. Kait said she ate a banana while I was using the porta potty because the time wore on. I usually ate an hour before my long runs. This meant I would eat an hour and 20 minutes after each mile.

I ran with my hydration vest. I trained with it and knowing it would be cooler, I could carry my food and inhaler without overheating. At first I thought I would get water at the aid stations and not carry water bottles. I decided I would get water at the aid stations and carry Tailwind. This way my electrolyte drink would be consistent with what I drank during training.  I wasn’t sure what electrolyte drink they had at the aid stations. Carrying my fluids  would keep me veering off course to a minimum.

The miles were very well marked on the course. There were big balloons on both side of the road as well as mile markers painted with the mile and a big GM. I told Kait I was a sucker for fonts and liked their logo.

In the course of the race, Kait and I would check in with each other if the other needed to eat. Kait does better with real food. Her dad made a pb sandwich which she cut into squares and tucked into her water bottle. There were aid stations at miles 3,5, 7,9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25. There were also flags along the course called the Event Designation system to designate the safety level of course. There were green flags all the way for us . We thought we would be running in a rainstorm.

At some point around 9am, I ate my Rx bar. I do this in training since it’s the time of the day I am most hungry. It was right around mile 9 since Kait and I stopped at a porta potty. I thought I would pee at the halfway point but I couldn’t wait. We  anticipated crowded potties at the 13 mile point. I thought the two of us having to pee again was a good sign of our hydration.

Many times Kait was always one step ahead of me. I could see the automatic impulse in her to run with the crowd. Over coffee, I told her I wouldn’t ask her to slow down that I would just hang back at an 11 min mile pace.  She caught herself many times and slowed down with me. 

The crowd held up signs like “Run Faster I Farted”, “Remember you Paid for this”, “I’m Sure It Seemed Like a Good Idea 4 Months ago”, “Punch Here for Power” and my favorite, a picture of Christopher Walken with the text “No Walken Here”. I was aware of my fatigue 2 hours into it and wanted to conserve my energy by only moving forward. Every time I ate on the 1 hour and 20 mark, I resisted the urge to throw out the wrapper not wanting to veer off. Kait and I stopped our chatter. She said she also felt fatigued and wanted to focus.

Earlier in the run we talked about the race meaning so much to us. Kait was trying to think of a tattoo that would commemorate the marathon and her brain surgery. I suggested the shape of Lake Superior with brain noodles inside. She didn’t go for that. We also talked about our mutual love of donuts. I told her I never let myself have a donut after a run unless the miles were in the double digits.  I told her the “0” in ten stood for the donut. She liked that and said she would always think of the donut in a 10 miler.

At the start of the race we were asked to be respectful of private property and use the porta potties. Despite that there were many people going in the woods throughout the race. The miles seemed to go by quickly. Before we knew it we were in the city limits of Duluth. I mimicked my nutrition so close to the 20 mile run that I was short a pack of something during the last hour. I hadn’t accounted for the time between breakfast and the start of the race. I was having a Honey Stinger Chew (cherry blossom just to balance the chocolate) every mile as I got close to 20 and I was running out. I was relieved to get a Mocha Cliff Shot (another favorite) from someone on the course.

It was blissful to see the residents out on their lawns with signs, food, water and in some cases beer. I felt welcomed and happy. I had been running for 4 hours at that point. It seemed like Kait was fading. I later found out it was me speeding up. We had discussed that it would be okay if we were separated because our training was different. At least that’s what I told myself since I felt guilty leaving her. I wanted to run as I had planned. I had a lot left in me at mile 20. I let myself take in the energy from the people on the course. There were belly dancers and I watched some runners dance with them. I waved at the accordion players playing a polka. I took frozen grapes from someone on the course, which were fantastic. I also took a wet sponge and squeezed the water on top of my head.

At some point, I felt like my head was disconnected from my body. My peripheral view was fading.  It felt like the regions under my neck were heavy. If it were any other scenario I would say it was some kind of meditative trance but I it took it as a queue that I needed more food. I ate the Mocha Cliff Shot and felt normal again. As happy as I felt, I was ready to see my boys and stop running. I used this to run faster.

I thought of Gerry and Bob, my departed friend. I could hear their voices so clearly in my head. In my fatigue, I was bursting with love for them and feeling their losses acutely. It was the love I focused on. As a runner I learned to choose to the things that moved me forward.  This was in running and also outside of it. 

I slowed down deciding my happy pace was unsustainable. I wouldn’t run like that until the end.  I ran at a 10:30 mile pace and coached myself to stay there. I saw our friends from Philadelphia, Frank and Liz in those last few miles. They use to live close to us in Ambler. Now they lived not far from the race course. I almost missed them since they called my name as I ran by. When I waved, they were already behind me. I didn’t have it in me to call out their names.

There were spectators pointing and cheering for me. I realized I was still smiling. I ran as fast as I could to the finish. I recognized it from the day before when we were at dinner and the art store.

The chute was blocked off.  Unlike my big races the previous  year, Julian could not escort me through the finish. I heard my name as I ran. I looked up and saw Marian. I gave those last few seconds everything I had. There is a spectacularly bad photo of me at the finish that says it all.  My exhaustion started from my chest and radiated to my extremities. The first thing I needed from my checked bag was my inhaler.

I was given a medal, finisher’s shirt and a foil blanket. I found the boys and got my hugs. It was great to see their faces. As we were standing, they gave me potato chips from the bags we got the day before. I was glad for the salt. They followed me around the edges of the “Runner’s Recovery Area”. I found a chocolate milk, which I drank quickly before I left to be with the boys.

Marian came over and gave me a big hug. She told me how proud she was of me. We talked about the race in each other’s ear amidst the crowd. Mainly that my shoes felt great and that everything had gone right.  I put my medal around JP’s neck while he fed me pulled pork flavored chips. I put on my jacket and capris while we waited for Kait. Marian fed me more chips, sour cream and onion.

When Kait came through, she found her family first. Then she found us across from them. I put the foil blanket around her since she said they ran out of them. She told me she wasn’t mad I had gone ahead of her that she too was proud of me, proud of us.


She had gone to get her checked bag and shared a beer with her parents. We eventually met up at a Caribou Coffee over hot chocolate. I met her parents, sisters and nephew. At one point Kait’s mom thanked me for taking care of Kait all these months. When we came back from Minnesota, I texted Kait and asked if I could all her Katie. She said of course, my family does!

After the race, we spent a couple of hours at our friend Frank and Liz’s. I got to shower and get caught up with them. The kids played lacrosse on the street. Then we left for Minneapolis. We stopped again at Tobies where I finally did get that cinnamon pecan roll. It was amazing and I ate It quickly.
This is Marian's picture. I ate mine too fast to get a picture.

I went right to bed when we got to hotel in Minneapolis. The boys went out a Sierra Trading Company store close by.  They brought back Chik Fil A. I ate a couple of Julian’s nuggets. I felt like victor in my soft pajamss in bed by 7 pm.

The whole time we were in there, I marveled at Lake Superior. I placed my faith in nature in the passing of Gerry. I thought of him so often these last few weeks. I talked to him whenever I was on a run especially in the woods.  He was of the earth now and because of that, I had faith he was everywhere. In the course of that race I thought of him saying “You got this Jenn Gen”.  He always watched over me, even though we didn’t talk often. I once remember Bernie telling me Gerry worried when we got our cat since it was right before I got pregnant with Julian. I also remember him being concerned we were moving so far away to Kentucky. He never told me any of this but Bernie relayed it because she is my sister. I have always said I didn't understand the relationship of siblings since my mom just had one. I was wrong. Along that magnificent fog obscured lake, there was Gerry who had me in the palm of his hand.


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