My final few weeks of training involved a number of physical (elbow, cold) and mental (work) curve balls. I guess everything had been a bit too perfect up to that point. The taper week was (surprisingly) a welcome arrival. I did my best to relax and erase any lingering doubts about my physical limitations. I took off from work Thursday to catch up on sleep and take care of some final pre-race errands. I flew to MSP from EWR early Friday morning. Travel went smoothly and I arrived at the St. Paul Crowne Plaza by lunchtime. I spent the next day and a half attempting to entertain myself, not my forte. My new NYAC teammate Esther’s arrival on Saturday afternoon was the highlight of the day! We chatted and relaxed the rest of the evening before turning off the lights at 9:30pm. After a night of tossing and turning we were more than ready to get up when the alarm rang at 5am. At 6:15am we boarded a yellow school bus headed for the elite athlete staging area at the Normandy Inn in Minneapolis a couple of blocks from the start. A large group of us (MN crew, Sheri Piers and Esther) went out for a 1mi warm-up a bit after 7:15am. I went through my normal pre-race routine and found myself standing on the starting line next to Esther, Michelle Lilienthal, Sheri and Nicole Camp shortly thereafter. And then we were off!
Much of the early part of the race was a blur. I was sad to let the pack of girls I started with go ahead but knew I needed to settle in at a slightly slower pace. I surveyed the guys around me, looking for some sensible ones to pack up with. I ultimately settled in with Bret and John (masters), two local guys looking to lock into 6:05 pace. They were familiar with the course and intent on being conservative with the 1.5/2mile hilly portion coming late in the race. We didn’t chat much but checked in after each mile. Many of the early ones were a bit quick but we stayed in a good range.
At mile 5 I grabbed my first bottle with relative ease. At mile 7 I saw Mom and Dad for the first time! At mile 8 I felt the first twinge of heaviness in my legs. It was around that point that I also started to feel a bit hungry. Uh oh! I took my first Clif Blok and tried to focus on the awesome crowds and the rolling nature of the beautiful course. I wasn’t completely content with the pack I was running with but didn’t have any other options. I felt like I was doing most of the pacing work but it did help me to relax a bit knowing that the pack would likely react if I sped up or slowed down. It would have been great to tuck in behind a group of guys but that wasn’t in the cards this time. At mile 11 I grabbed my second bottle and saw Mom and Dad again!
I started to get a bit anxious approaching the halfway mark. I was thinking about how I was feeling and comparing it to the Philly Marathon. I didn’t feel as good but once I got over the halfway hump (1:19.01) I felt reenergized and happy. The next stretch of the race was uneventful. We continued to hit 6:00-6:05 splits but the pack had thinned to just three (me, Bret, and #1972). Spectators began calling out my place in the race. Some said 9, others 10 or 11. I laughed with Bret and #1972 about the invisible women that I was passing and getting passed by because I hadn’t seen a single other woman since the start. I saw mom again around mile 19 and was still feeling good. I took my last Clif Blok at that point in anticipation of the hilly stretch ahead. I slowed on the first hilly mile (20-21) but nothing too drastic. Unfortunately our pack was no longer. I would run the remaining 10k solo. The following two miles were pretty disastrous (6:30, 6:20). My legs felt like lead from the hills and my feet had started to cramp badly. I saw Dad during that stretch. He was positioned perfectly to snap me out of my slump. Even though things were going downhill quickly, I don’t recall analyzing too much. I was still passing guys left and right with a number of them pulled over at the curb. I definitely wondered if the same might be in store for me. After the 23 mile mark I felt like I got my legs back a bit. I continued to try to flex my feet while running (not an easy task!) to manage the foot cramps. For a couple of miles spectators had been consistently reporting that I was in 11th but I still hadn’t spotted another woman. At ~24 I spotted Sheri’s neon socks in the distance and another woman with the Saucony Hurricane uniform. They were too far ahead to catch but this sighting provided me with a little boost. Around 25.5 miles I saw Marci Gage tucked in with some guys. I was very surprised! She was a bit ahead but reach if my feet cooperated. Dad was right there too and started going crazy. At the 26 mile mark I had tucked in right behind her. Suddenly this had become a real race! When Terry mentioned in our final pre-race chat that he thought I could be in the top-10 I was very surprised. Up until that point I hadn’t considered place, only pace as the marathon was something that I didn’t put in the “race” category but now it was! With my remaining mental facilities I briefly strategized before deciding to just run like hell and not look back. I ran that last 0.2 in 73 seconds to snag 10th by 4 seconds! The 1/2 hour following the race was pretty excruciating. The sprint to the finish really put the nail in the coffin. I had some help from the nice massage people in the elite tent with my cramping. One person tackled my left leg and another my right. Mom rode back with me in the elite van to the hotel after things calmed down a bit. I packed up back at the hotel and said goodbye to Esther (2:34.30, 3rd!!) before meeting Mom and Dad for lunch. Would have loved to have stayed in MN for the post-race festivities but had to work on Monday so boarded a 4:30pm flight to EWR. I assumed the rest of the night would be low key and celebrating would be put off until later in the week but I had assumed wrong. When I stepped outside at the airport Marisa was standing at the curb waiting with champagne!!! I couldn’t have asked for a better end to such a great day!