After a successful carbo load on Saturday night (spaghetti and meatballs…yummo), I actually managed to get some sleep. I woke up around 5:30 on Sunday morning, applied vaseline to the feet and other, uh, vulnerable areas, donned my special-made marathon running shirt, put on fleece pants and fleece sweatshirt, winter hat and gloves, and sprinted to the car. It was around 30 degrees at 6:00 in the morning as I drove to drop a car in St. Paul and shuttle to the starting line in Minneapolis. To think that much of the summer I endeavored to run really early to avoid the heat, and I still sweated like a sprinkler. Not so this day.
I frigidly waited in line for the shuttlebus at the Kelly Inn in St. Paul, and then around 6:15 boarded the bus and headed to Minneapolis. I sat next to an older gentleman and asked if he was running the 10-mile race or the full marathon. He kind of tsked me and said “full marathon.” I later learned he has run 40 marathons in his life, including the last 20 Twin Cities marathons. I asked if he had any advice for a first timer. He said don’t start too fast, and don’t get caught in the port-a-potty line. Wise man, this. Like talking to Yoda. Run fast you don’t. Go poop you will.
Anyway, got off the bus at the Metrodome and waited in the concourse inside the Dome to keep warm. There was a lot of nervous energy inside, so I just sat on the ground, closed my eyes, and tried to conserve, conserve, conserve. Around 7:45 I left the warmth of the concourse, reluctantly took off my fleece, put it in my sweatbag (which was to be transported to the finish line), and headed for Corral 2 on 6th Street, ready to rock. The sun was up, the temperature warmed, and the wind had settled down. It was a beautiful morning, summer yellow giving way to autumn gold. Around 7:58, I closed my eyes and wordlessly spoke to my mother, asking her for strength and courage to finish. At 8:00 precisely the gun went off, and the elite runners in Corral 1 crossed the starting line. Approximately 5 minutes later, I crossed the starting line. And we’re off.
The first couple miles headed west through downtown, past the Walker Art Center, and then over to Lake of the Isles. Leaving downtown I saw my favorite sign of the day…”This parade sucks.” Isn’t that awesome? I also got my first cheers of the day - my special shirt had the University of Minnesota “M” logo, with the word “Courage” underneath. So I was serenaded with “Go Gophers” as I neared Lake of the Isles. The highlight was seeing Minnesota Supreme Court justice, and former Minnesota Viking, Alan Page as he played his tuba around Mile 3.
Off to the lakes in South Minneapolis, first (as I mentioned earlier) Lake of the Isles, then to Lake Calhoun, and finally to Lake Harriet. I was struck as the race began by the never-ending line of people along the route, and how exhilirating it was as the racecourse narrowed and only a few runners across could fit between the supporters. It is estimated that 300,000 people line the racecourse. Not sure if that is accurate, but they were out in droves. Lots of music, lots of parties. Awesome. The other part that was a great surprise to me was the beauty of the course as we circled around the lakes. Being a St. Paul boy, provincial to a fault, I had never seen much of the trails around Lake Calhoun or Lake Harriet, but they were magnificent in full fall bloom. Finally, around mile 8, I said good bye to the lakes and hello to Minnehaha Creek.
The Creek is another beautiful setting, treelined with huge oaks and maples, bordered by nice houses. Nearing 10 miles in, I did an system check. Everything was holding up. Legs felt good, toenails remained affixed, lungs were strong. I decided it had warmed sufficiently to take off my winter hat, which had taken a turn onto the intersection of Wetville Road and Nasty Lane. Kept my ears warm, though. On the left side of the parkway, standing on a chair, was the first sighting of my wife, who had biked over to cheer me on. I was so excited, ran over, gave her a kiss and told her I was doing great. Newly enthused, after another mile or so, I turned south on Cedar Avenue, then headed around the south end of Lake Nokomis where runners crossed over mile 13.1. Half way home. Right around that point, I heard a driving beat get louder and louder, and then experienced a very cool thing: There was a sound system set up around someone’s house, blaring House of Pain’s “Jump Around” at full volume. I saw runners and fans all jumping and dancing together, so, as I neared the music zone, I jumped around. So fun. I would have loved to stick around, but St. Paul awaits!
Another Anne sighting at mile 14, where she grabbed my stinko hat (bless her heart), and then I headed to the river for the next stretch. Now, East and West River Parkway was where I did most of my training, so this was home territory. Body was still holding up as I ran under the Lake Street bridge (another Anne sighting!) and neared the Franklin Avenue bridge, finally crossing over to the east side of the Mississippi after 19 miles. 7 to go.
I had made some mid race adjustments. I was now walking through water stops, saving energy and making sure I didn’t spill Powerade all over myself. I can’t drink and run. It’s one or the other. I saw Anne for the 4th time at mile 20, along with my kids, Ellie and Sam, and my sister in law Carolyn. Hugs and high-fives all around. Awesome. My body, surprisingly, felt strong as I trudged uphill from the river to Cretin Avenue, and then a quick left onto Summit Avenue. 4.5 miles to go.
At this point, my body was showing signs of wearing down. My feet were very sore and my legs were stiffening. But I was still running, still felt under control. The first part of the Summit stretch is a gradual uphill, but I stuck to my strategy of walking through water stops, which now came every mile, and, once it seemed likely I would finish without a major blowout, I calculated my remaining pace and distance and realized my unofficial goal of 4:30 was within reach, if I just stayed at my current pace. However, after a few high-fives with friends and family, when I finally reached the end of Summit and looked down to the State Capitol, finish line in sight and about a half mile to go, I realized I needed to step on the gas to break 4:30. So I finally “unleashed the dragon” (shoutout to my friend and dragonmaster Doug Kleemeier) and ran as fast as I could down towards the finish. Folks, it wasn’t THAT fast. But the fans were cheering “Go Gophers! Go Courage! You can do it!” And, choking back tears, I crossed the finish line. 4:29.42. I did it.
Never in my life have I felt so supported as I did on Sunday. It was an amazing feeling. After getting my medal, and some chocolate milk, chicken broth, two bottles of water, a banana, and potato chips, I found Anne, who biked down to see me at the finish. Gave her a hug and a kiss - what a blessing to have her following me around, offering encouragement and her wonderful smile. My favorite smile. Finally, at that point, as my body cooled down and the winds picked up, my legs stiffened as if to say “okay, asshole, we did our part, so get us some relief. Now.” Oh boy…those legs were barking. The walk up the hill to my car was a long-un. Two women, fellow marathon finishers, were walking as slowly as I was, so I jokingly challenged them to a race. They said “you first.” We laughed. We were fried.
In the car and, after a long journey to leave the parking lot with all the marathon traffic, I finally made it home. My kids made me a Epsom Salt bath, and after a soak we had some friends over to celebrate my accomplishment. It was really fun to see friends and family, and really great to receive lots of hugs and well wishes. After a great day, I collapsed into bed at 8:10, legs sore but heart full.
Monday was way different. I stayed up until 8:40.
And so this blog ends, around 6 months after it began, with the same wonderful quote from Jesse Owens -
“I always loved running…it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.”
Thanks to everyone for your well wishes, your support of my fundraising, and for taking this journey with me. I wish you all health and happiness. And courage.