Letting Go

Life is a balance.  A delicate one at that.  After decades of aiming high, how does one gracefully readjust one’s sights?

Just last June I was flying high.  I had qualified for the Boston Marathon, along with my son Erik, his wife Katie and her cousin Brendan.  Conditions at Grandma’s Marathon were nearly perfect, propelling each of us down the shore of Lake Superior to cross the finish line with good margins to secure us a spot in that most prestigious of marathons.  Swept away by the tide of our victory, our quartet vowed to run Boston.

Boston Bound foursome

Plans were made.  We found housing and received our confirmation emails for the race.  All looked good for a spring run.  Until it didn’t.  Pain, injury, arthritis and bad running habits all linked arms to throw a wrench into my training.  Weeks of rest and cross-training turned into months with no improvement.  Winter stepped in and obliterated the Lakewalk with snow while temperatures plummeted deep into the negative range.  I knew from experience that training for Boston in the midst of winter was a challenge, but this was ridiculous.

The ambiguity hung over my head for months.  One week I’d feel hopeful and set my sights on “just finishing” in Boston.  The next I was pragmatic and knew that the time to adequately prepare was waning.  On one hand I’d done it all before.  Twice in fact.  First on my own, to celebrate turning 50.  The second time I crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with my daughter, Karen.  On the other hand, this was a chance to run it with my son and his wife and share in their joy.  To prove I could still do it.

Boston finish 2005

Boston finish 2009










In my journey, I sought plenty of advice.  Confiding in my daughter, I poured out my dilemma, that I was considering dropping out of the race.  “Oh Mom!” she sighed.  “That means admitting you’re getting old!”  It wasn’t what I expected at all.  But her uncensored sentiment revealed something else.  She perfectly mirrored my own mother’s unwavering belief in me.  I smiled to realize that the generations had flipped, and the void left by my mother eight years ago had just been filled.

Oddly enough, just as I felt I was turning the corner through physical therapy I also knew the answer.  This wasn’t about proving anything.  It wasn’t about getting old.  It was about the long run.  Literally.  It was about healing, gaining strength and building myself back up in order to continue to do the thing I love.  Running.  For years to come, not just one day.

It’s not easy conceding to reality.  Come Boston Marathon day I know my heart will twist as I follow Erik and Katie out there on the race course from a distance through text alerts.  I’ll wish I was there, doing it.  But if it means running with my grandchildren and staying active into my real old age, then I made the right decision.  It’s not giving up.  It’s letting go.  There’s a difference.

Marathon Finish

It doesn’t seem quite fair to leave off with a post leading up to Grandma’s Marathon and then drop it.  While I doubt anyone is losing sleep over how I fared in the race, I somehow feel better at least finishing the tale I started.  So here it is.

Bottom line: My 10th Grandma’s Marathon is in the bag.  I legitimately claimed my Finisher’s t-shirt and the incredibly heavy medal they hung around my tired neck.  I spent the afternoon relishing that “good tired” feeling and the knowledge that I had done it – and I was done.Molly running Grandma's MarathonThe race played out much as I might have predicted.  It was a cloudy 63 degrees at the start, comfortable for running given a slight breeze to stir the air.  The normally welcome sight of the sun was not a good omen.  It quickly sent the temperature into the 70s adding heat to the challenge of the race.  But in comparison to last year’s black-flag conditions, it was very manageable.

I felt good for the first 18 miles.  My pace was in the low to mid 9 minute range, which I knew was well below what I should be doing.  But as long as I was comfortable I kept it up.  I can’t resist the urge to bank a minute or two per mile in the beginning.  I began to slow after that, and by mile 21 (coincidentally the max for my three longest training runs) it became a struggle.  It’s at that point in most marathons where I feel like I am moving in slow motion.  My body is barely moving forward.  My legs are like lead.  But I persist.

Molly and Erik Grandma's MarathonI had a great cheering section to spur me on.  Rich and son Erik were on bikes leapfrogging from point to point along the route.  Erik rode all the way to the end, catching me circling the DECC and riding along shouting encouragement as I turned the corner for the final stretch to the finish.  Rich was there at the end to video me crossing the finish line. Never discount the value of family support!

Molly Erik Rich after Grandma's MarathonI finished in 4:17:15.  I count it as a victory in many ways – I beat last year’s time, I averaged 9:50 minute miles, and it’s a Boston Qualifier (being old is a huge benefit).  But mainly because I felt good about doing it.  This makes 18 marathons overall.  Somehow I just know there are more in me.  I’m not finished yet.

The Marathon Taper

The hardest part of training for a marathon is refraining from running.  At least for me. After all, in my view doing a marathon is the perfect excuse for running copious numbers of miles. It’s all the justification I need to feed my exercise obsession. While I may not enjoy every step of my long training runs, I do love the feeling of building strength week after week and the sense of satisfaction completing those 21-milers.

I no longer use any particular training plan. By now, after 17 marathons I have figured out generally what works for me, and loosely follow that. I’ve made peace with my 60+ years and the inevitable slowdown in pace. Throwing bicycle touring into my repertoire has generated additional irregularity in my training. Since I can’t seem to kick the marathon habit, I’ve learned to adapt and become much more flexible in my approach and my expectations. As long as I’ve done enough preparation to feel I can run 26.2 without issues, I’m game.

So marathon week is a particular challenge. I know it’s time to cut back my miles. Intellectually I understand the need for rest days. My body deserves some downtime to prepare for the upcoming explosion of exertion it will take to get from Two Harbors from Duluth. But my mind resists. I’d so rather be out running.

Coffee time on the dockEnter the cabin. There’s no better place to chill and relax. I spend my final two days prior to Grandma’s Marathon with the lake in view. It’s a place I can allow myself to alternate between reading and snoozing outside on a sunny afternoon. My favorite morning routine is an early run, a brisk swim and a leisurely breakfast on the dock while perusing magazines. Today it’s barely more than a short jog, a brief dip in the lake and extended coffee time pouring over 8 year old issues of Runners’ World.

Tomorrow I can release all this pent up energy. I tell myself I will make up for all the missed miles when I toe the start line and head down the Scenic Highway. I will be grateful for the rest days when I begin to flag. I can feed my passion all I want in the days following the race. For now, I must gracefully concede to my marathon taper.

We Interrupt this Program

You won’t find this training program in any marathon guides.  In fact, I don’t recommend it.  But for the second year in a row I am destined to follow it as I prepare for Grandma’s Marathon.

It goes something like this:

Snowy LakewalkFinish skiing the Birkie at the end of February, and trade cross-country skis for running shoes.  Brave the remainder of winter in Duluth, training hard and working in several 20-milers.  Feel good about increasing my pace and gaining distance endurance.


Halt!  Stop running for an entire month.  Pack up the bikes and fly Cycling in Scotlandover to Scotland with my husband, Rich, and cycle around the countryside for three weeks.  Plenty of hill work as we pedal through the Highlands.  Loads of endurance training as well chalk up several 50 mile days in a row.  Endless carbo loading as we endeavor to replace calories burned.  But not a single mile on my feet.

Running shoesRe-enter the Northland with exactly 2 weeks to go until race day.  Order new running shoes and cram in the miles.  Start with 8, work up to 13 and then 18 in just over a week.  Ignore the burning thighs.  With 5 days left before the marathon, begin the taper.  Whew, almost there!

It’s not like I didn’t plan for this race.  My son, Erik, and I hit the Grandma’s Marathon site the day registration opened and signed up.  We proudly wear our 40th Anniversary marathon jackets.  I was sure I could train for a good race this year.

Enter my creative husband, who dreams up cycling tours.  Marathons notwithstanding.  Who was I to turn down cycling through the Scottish countryside?  Life is full of interruptions.  This one was entirely worth it.  I’m back on the program now.  Bring on the marathon!



Shortcut to a Marathon

I’m a meticulous planner.  No one would deny it.  My self-styled training program for a marathon includes rigorous standards that usually involve at least 16 weeks of preparation, doing 50+ miles a week and at least 3 long runs of 20 miles or more.  When I step up to the start line I am driven to feel prepared.

Not so this 2015 Minneapolis Marathon.  My training was unconventional at best, and admittedly quirky:

  • Run and XC ski throughout the winter.  Given the lack of snow, running definitely won out, with regular 10 mile runs and occasional 13 milers.
  • Go on a spring cycling tour.  With barely a week warm enough to get in some preparatory miles on our bicycles, Rich and I headed South to spend 5 weeks cycling from Texas to St. Louis MO.  We tallied 1500 miles of pedaling.
  • Run like mad for 3 weeks.  Returning home with only 3 weeks to race date, I crammed in as much running as I could, logging 188 miles and ignoring the usual prudent tapering period prior to the race.

I have to say that this plan made for a much more relaxed approach to marathon day.  I still went through the ritual consternation about the right layers to wear for the weather.  But I had no illusions about setting a PR.  I wasn’t concerned with getting just the right position in the starting chute.  I even planned to stop at the porta potties along the way.  All I wanted to do was finish.  Ok, with a reasonable time.

Minneapolis Marathon routeWe couldn’t have had a more beautiful day, with brilliant sunshine enhanced by the spring green leaves and early flowers blooming.  It was chilly waiting at the start in the 45 degree morning air.  My legs felt like lead the first few miles, but once warmed up they began to pump as they should.  Yes, I could feel it – this was going to be a good race.

The course was very scenic, mostly following the Mississippi River.  But best of all, it was extremely spectator friendly and my family made the most of it.  Rich, Erik and Katie met me on their bicycles at mile 7 and leapfrogged me for most of the course.  Karen, Matt Cheering Section at Minneapolis Marathonand their kids met me at multiple places on the course.  While I usually do not favor out-and-back routes, having the second half of the race do so allowed for double the cheering opportunities.  Their support was the key ingredient in my race – having them there buoyed my spirits and energy immensely.

The biggest surprise was a huge group of people I didn’t recognize – all chanting my name!  I was mystified until my daughter later explained that they were her running group, who she tipped off before the marathon.

I feltMolly Minneapolis Marathon  amazingly strong most of the way.  Finding temporary running buddies is always a boost for me, talking and running.  Sharing marathon stories and other irrelevant bits of information while being pushed by someone else makes the miles pass by more quickly – in more ways than one.  I went through several such pals.  It was miles 17-21 that were the toughest for me, as I passed the distance of my longest training run and felt the accumulation of miles behind me.  But a final burst of family cheers and high-5s re-energized me and I pushed into the final stretch.  I managed to attack one of the steepest hills near the end by pretending I was XC skiing (there’s that cross-training!) and trading jibes with my family cyclists about having just the right wax for the job.  Erik challenged me to “give it all I had” with less than a mile to go.  It was just what I needed, propelling me at my top speed (well, the top I had by that point) right through the finish line.  What a triumphant finish!IMG_3113IMG_7260 trimmedI optimistically hoped to average 10 minute miles for the race, so I was thrilled with my 4:19:35 finish time, with a 9:55 min/mile pace.  I had no idea I could do that on just 3 weeks of training.  Just think of all the time and pain I saved myself – multiple 20 mile runs, weeks of anxiety over getting in enough miles and months of planning for the race.  It’s close to my slowest marathon ever, but hey – I even qualified for Boston!  Maybe my shortcut method to 26.2 is not so bad…

3 Weeks to 26.2

The whole idea is absurd.  But that hasn’t stopped me.  And somehow, no one is surprised.The Minneapolis Marathon that wasn't

When the Minneapolis Marathon was cancelled as I stood at the start line last year, I was offered the chance to register for this year’s race for only $20.  Naturally, I couldn’t resist such a deal and felt I should get something for my pain.  So I signed up.

Fast forward to winter.  It’s dragging on and Rich and I are eager for spring.  The opportunity to do a spring cycling tour was irresistible, and we set off for five weeks on our bicycles.  Of course I knew that the marathon lurked shortly beyond our fuzzy completion date, and figured I’d deal with that when I got home.  By the time my feet rotated on the pedals for the last time, it was exactly three weeks to Marathon day.  Great.Molly cycling in Arkansas

Cross training is one thing.  But when it is to the exclusion of the main sport, it gets a bit dicey.  I already knew that my body didn’t accept cycling as a substitute for running, and that I’d have to retrain a whole different set of muscles.  Running never feels so awkward as it does after a long layoff.

I didn’t waste any time.  Before we even started our drive home, I did a 5 mile run.  It was ugly.  My legs felt like rubber and I could hardly wait to be done.  We won’t even talk about how long it took.  But I persevered.  Increasing my mileage each day (far beyond what any sensible training program would advise) soon brought me up to my 10-mile standard.  Just over a week later, I did my first “long” run – going to the Aerial Bridge and back for a 13-miler.  And a few days later, I topped that with 15 miles.

Never mind that I was still pressing for longer distances in the period when most marathoners are in their taper mode.  There was nothing reasonable or sane about what I was doing.  Knowing that the marathon rules allowed me to change my registration to the Half Marathon as late as the day before the race, I knew I had a fall-back.  Although others who know me well doubted I could make that concession, I kept the idea in reserve.  Until last weekend.  Completing a solid 18 mile run at the cabin and still feeling good, I knew there was no turning back.  It’s the full marathon for me.  Crazy as it seems.Minneapolis Marathon 2015

Sunday will be the show down.  At 6:30am I’ll be toeing the start line once more.  So far they are predicting good weather, and I fully expect to cross that line and advance down the course this time.  It feels entirely different approaching this race with such a lack of preparation.  Time is of little importance, it’s all about just finishing.  I intend to treat it as just another training run, but with great crowd support, the benefit of water stations and family members there to cheer me on.  Then we’ll all see just what happens when I attempt 26.2 in only 3 weeks.

Marathon Miles

Today's marathon was not ours but our son, Erik's. While we cycled through Texas, he ran the Boston Marathon! Having done it twice myself, I knew what a big dealt was for him and was so excited to follow his progress virtually through the race text updates.

Go Erik!

Carefully watching the time, when his 10am Boston starting time arrived, I shouted out “Go Erik!” for anyone in the Texas countryside who might be interested. And I couldn't resist sending a selfie to his fiancé to let her know I was out there cheering for him.

I'm afraid I don't recall a lot of the scenery we passed through this morning. My thoughts and my heart were in Boston with Erik. I was too busy calculating times, distances and remembered visual references on the course to notice what we were passing. While we had beautiful clear skies and bright sunshine yet a cool wind, I knew from checking the weather reports that he was dealing with a stiff headwind, rain and temperatures in the 40s. I didn't envy him that bit.

Watching for texts

I chose a new alert sound for my texts to one I might hear better, and positioned my iPhone in the top of my handlebar bag in the hopes of seeing the texts as soon as they came in. Rich wasn't thrilled when I insisted on stopping each time a new report came through.

To add to the excitement, the whole family was group texting their support and reactions to his speedy pace. And of course I had to enter the fray on those exchanges as well. Never did a runner have so much activity on social media!

Rich getting 26 texts

Rich played it cool, getting his updates from me. But he got a taste of what was going on when he tried to consult his smartphone maps to figure out our next turn. He found 26 texts awaiting his attention!

The anxiety was intense as Erik neared the end of the race. I could hardly wait for that “Finish” text! When it came through, I was thrilled to see his sub-3 hour time – 2:56:28! The texts flew even faster then, as we all shared in his victorious finish.

I had to laugh noticing that we completed 29 miles in 2:46 this morning while Erik ran 26.2 in 2:56. He ran just about as fast as we were able to cycle! In our defense, we had some city traffic to navigate and frequent stops for text messages, but that hardly negates his accomplishment.

The best part was getting the blow-by-blow account of the race from Erik later in the day. I loved his comment about how NOW he gets it, and just how tough Boston is as a marathon. That I could relate to. But I'll never experience his pre-race drama. Starting in corral 2, he just happened to be in the right position to high-5 all the elite runners when they came out to take their place right in front of him at the starting line. Wow! Now that's a runner's high. Well done, Erik!

Erik at the Boston Marathon


Marathon – Not!

IMG_0894Despite the dark skies last evening and pouring rain, we were hopeful.  Even though the thunder boomed throughout the night, we stayed positive.  Driving to the start in rain and moderate thunder, we still planned to race.  We knew we were going to get wet – really wet – that was a given.  But still we were excited.  This was Katie’s first half-marathon and we planned to run together for that distance, then I’d continue for the full marathon.

We had a trusty support crew to cheer us on.  My son Erik (Katie is his girlfriend), and Katie’s mom had devised a plan to cover the Minneapolis Marathon course with their two cars.  If the rain cleared, Rich planned to follow us on his bike.  We were all set to go.

Our first inkling that things were not going well was the 1-hour delay.  Fortunately, we were able to wait it out in our cars and stay dry.  We sat and watched as the parking lot filled up with cars, but the eerie thing was that no one got out of them.  Not a runner headed for the start line as we awaited the next update on the race.

IMG_3200.JPGWhen the 7:00am update didn’t come, and time grew closer to the new 7:30 start time, we had little option but to don our garbage bags and head for the start.  There were plenty of other racers doing the same by then, and the rain even let up for us.  The starting chute seemed to be sparsely populated, and it lacked the excitement and energy that usually builds prior to the race.  The atmosphere was shrouded in uncertainty instead.  But we still clung to the belief that soon we would be running down the road, with many miles to cover.

7:30 came and went, and still the same somber crowd waited.  By 7:40 we really began to wonder.  About five minutes later, we saw streams of runners walking back the other way from the start.  Word spread quickly that the race was cancelled, but there was no official announcement – nothing to tell us that this big race was not going to happen.  It was such a non-event that we wondered if it was real.  But soon we had to face the inevitable, and accept that it had indeed been cancelled.  The crowd was surprisingly quiet as we made our way back to the parking lot.

WP_20140601_003With plenty of pent up energy, Katie and I decided we would run home. Sprinting away from the race venue it felt good to be pounding the pavement and doing something after all the time we’d spent waiting.  We pressed our speed, going faster than either of us has run all spring, pouring a marathon’s worth of miles into a shorter, faster distance.  Erik proved to be a trusty cheerleader, meeting us at points along the way with offers of water and Clifbloks for our “race!”  And we crossed the finish line at home, breaking the tape he’d constructed at the end  of the driveway.

Word came only after the fact that race officials and police were concerned about recurring thunderstorms and flash flooding, and made the decision for the safety of the runners.  I’m sure it’s a very tough call to make, and I support their decision to weigh in on the side of public safety.  I have to say, though, that it’s been hard to see the weather stay on the clear side for the remainder of the day.  Just being honest.  I’m sure the marathon folks are equally frustrated.  Better luck next time.


T-minus 2 days to Marathon!

Honestly, this part is hard.  All the training is done, the miles and long runs are behind me.  I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, and now I’m forced into “taper mode.”  For someone who’s used to running and pushing the limit every day, holding back is torture!

My last long run was a 20 miler two weeks ago.  It IMG_4214 trimmedwas made infinitely more bearable by running it with my daughter, Karen.  Although we’re training for different marathons, we both had the same long runs to do.  It was my last 20 miler, her first in the training regimen.  We set off together and used the time to good advantage, keeping up a constant conversation.  We covered a lot of ground and finally caught up on each others’ lives.  It was worth the 20 miles to have the time together.  Really.

This week I’m supposed to be resting.  Doing short runs, taking days off and gathering strength for the big day on Sunday.  It’s not working very well…  I’ve decided I am not going to sacrifice living for the sake of shaving a few minutes or seconds off my marathon time.  So although I’d already run this morning, I hopped on my bike this afternoon – it was just too nice not to!

Now it’s a mind game.  Checking the weather forecast.  Wishing I hadn’t.  Thunderstorms are not my preferred running conditions. Neither is heat.  Even this morning, the temperature in Duluth was a sunny 45 degrees as I set out for my run.  Minneapolis is predicted to get into the 80s on race day.  My body is not ready for heat.

I’m looking forward to the Expo tomorrow.  Packet pick-up is always an infusion of energy and excitement – the first surge of adrenaline for the race.  I love walking up to the table with registration packets, under the Marathon heading.  The big one.  That’s for me.

This is my first marathon in almost three years. And I’m ready.  Minneapolis Marathon, here I come.Minneapolis Marathon logo


Whatever the Weather

We runners are resilient.  No matter the weather, we are out there pounding the pavement, putting in our miles.  And those of us living in Duluth are especially so.  We have to be, as the seasons here hold no loyalty to the calendar.  So although this is the height of the marathon training period, it’s not exactly shorts and t-shirt weather.

weatherMentally I planned to do my weekly long run today.  Never mind the fact that tomorrow’s weather looks to be beautiful and sunny and my calendar is open, my inner control center said it had to be today.  This morning.  Early.  Because I like to run first thing in the morning.

I awoke to what sounded like water.  Was it rain?  The falls on Amity Creek?  Wind?  Crossing my fingers, I arose to find that the rocks next to the house were dry – a good start.  The rest of the word was enveloped in a heavy fog, but it was not precipitating.  And my weather app said rain would not show up before noon.  That was enough for me – I was going.

Fog turned out to be equal parts mist.  The closer to the lake I got, the heavier it was.  But it wasn’t raining.  I had the proper clothing, and blessed my wind mitts as I pulled them on to keep my gloves dry.  The scenery wasn’t spectacular, but there were other small compensations.  The street cleaners had been out, clearing the shoulders of grit and sand on the Scenic Highway.  My running and cycling personae thanked them for that.   Traffic was light, and I certainly didn’t have to dodge other runners.

Doubling back to the Lakewalk, I found more company.  Folks were out running and walking.  Even a bike or two passed by.  Greeting one another as we passed, some exchanged conspiratorial glances with me that acknowledged the craziness of our pursuits in the drippy weather.  Others appeared as if it were a fine day, totally unaffected by the local conditions.  Somehow my fellow damp athletes validated my choice, and I pressed on in the belief that I’d be glad I stuck to my plan.

On my return from Canal Park the weather gods took pity on me.  The wind dropped and the fog lifted.  The mist had dried up.  It was almost decent weather.  I willed my legs to keep churning, clocking off the miles and setting mental milestones in the distance.  As I logged miles 19 and 20 I thought of my daughter doing her long run at the same time in the Twin Cities.  My virtual running partner carried me through.

Make no mistake, when I reached our driveway, I was glad to be done.  I made it back before it rained, and maintained a decent pace.  I was still warm, and relatively dry.  And  I could check off one more long run before my race, the Minneapolis Marathon.  All that despite the weather.