"This is it, no more races this year. I need to recover after Twin Cities, need to take what I learned this season & work on stuff. I need an off-season."
That's what I told Ali the week leading up to the Twin Cities Marathon. I was planning on lacing them up and running TCM for the 7th straight year but having finished the Superior 100 a month prior I was looking forward to an off-season.
The past few years I've said the same thing, only to find myself toeing the line at the Wild Duluth 50K two weeks later, or last year at Surf the Murph 50K. But this year I was serious (and helped by the fact that Surf the Murph sold out & I won't be in town for the Wild Duluth) there will be an off-season, one to recover & refocus on training.
With that in mind, my brother Alex & I headed to the starting line. As usual I expected to run the first mile or so with him before he pulled away, and I settled into my pace ticking off miles like a metronome.
But this year I didn't want to just run TCM, I wanted to enjoy it, and leave proud of my effort.
The gun sounded & off we went, I kept up with Alex down to Hennepin, first mile in at 8:08, I'm not gonna keep that up I said to him. We made the turn by the Sculpture Garden and up the hill together, another decently fast mile but I could tell he wanted to push it and I wanted to run my race so we parted ways around mile three.
Alex would go on to crush it, finishing in 3:27 and destroying the last 5.2 miles in around 37 minutes. I never cease to be amazed by the mental & physical fortitude he can muster up on race day. 5 times now we've started marathons together only for him to be waiting for me at the finish line.
I settled into my rhythm around lake of the Isles, but as we made the move toward Calhoun I didn't feel satisfied with just running along at an easy clip. Finishing, one month after running 103.3 miles, would be a great accomplishment, but running hard would let me leave this season on good note mentally and physically.
So I began to push, bit by bit, seeing what I could do. The night before Ali and I talked about the run and she said 'What if you have a great day?' I said 'We'll meet up with everyone at the end and have brunch, and if I have a bad day we'll do the same...' But this didn't feel like a bad day, not yet anyway, so I pushed a little harder.
Weaving in and out of people around Lake Harriet and on to Minnehaha Creek I kept pushing while trying to remain relaxed. Oxymoron right? While I pushed, I also made sure to breathe through my nose, helping to regulate my heart rate and relax my shoulders so that the effort didn't leave me with a sore back/neck.
Around mile 10 I got a boost as Ali and Nicole popped out of the crowd cheering for me. It was totally unexpected since I thought I had already passed them, and it gave me an extra pep in my step as I ripped off a 751 mile.
As we turned on to Cedar & around Lake Nokomis, I made sure to keep my foot on the gas. Not fast, but faster than felt comfortable. I thought back to a few years ago when I was running comfortably and at mile 23 decided to see if I could make it hurt, and pushed as hard as I could over those final 3.2 miles finishing with my second best marathon time of 332. Would I be able to keep this up and make it hurt again? I didn't know but I was determined to try.
Up the hill to Melo Glaze, down to Minnehaha Park, still pushing feeling a bit spent but knowing I had more in the tank. Spotting Mitch & his family cheering helped push me on, and then a mile or so later there was Ali & Nicole, another surprise that propelled me down to Franklin Bridge.
Rolling hills I told myself as I crossed into St. Paul. Up one down the other then on the up you'll see Mom, Dad & Gramps, then a steep up to Summit & the long slow Summit grind before it levels out.
Just like that there they were, but this time the whole crew. Another great surprise, Gramps hopped out of the crowd ringing his bell, Wolves winter hat askew on his head, and ran a few steps with me.
That shot me down the road and up to Summit where the good vibes wore off as I neared Snelling and could feel myself slowing down against my will.
Just make it up here, it levels out, I thought to myself. Next to me I heard two women motivating each other as well. "Sweat is weakness leaving the body" one told the other. "Remember how hard you worked for this, there is nothing like the finish line" the other responded.
I smiled recalling some of my favorite motivational lines, then put my head down and pushed to the top where it did flatten out for a bit.
Three miles to go, what have you got left, will it be a good day or bad day? A lot can happen in three miles. I've had the wheels fall off pretty hard with this distance to go.
Head up, shoulders back, relaxed yet pushing. Two to go, leg it out, this is your last race for the year let it all go...whoops, that wasn't supposed happen. Cramp hit my left hamstring hard, stopping me in my tracks. I hobbled to the side of the road, bent over to stretch it out, loosened just enough for me to try walking. After a few steps the walk turned into a trot and I was back at it.
The Cathedral appeared on my left, then the finishing chute, push, push, push. Alex was already done I was sure, don't make him wait too long!
A quick glance at my watch, can I make it across the bridge to the finish line in 30 seconds? Let's give it a shot. Pumping my legs while monitoring my left hammy for the remnants of that cramp; it seems okay.
Missed that 30 second mark which would have put me in at 3:39, instead I lumbered across in 3:40:17 officially.
And then it was over, not just the race but my running season. I looked along the fence for my family, finally spotted Alex. He stood there with his medal hanging from his neck, salt streaks down his face & on his tights, crooked smile and a bounce in his step. He had a great day; I had a really good day, both very happy with our effort.
We met up with the crew, took some pictures, cheers to the season with our free Summit, and then just like I told Ali, we had brunch.
It was the perfect way to end the running season. Happy with my effort, amazed at the challenges I took on this summer & grateful to have made it through them all with the help of great friends & an amazing family.