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.

Adapting to Paradise

It's a rough life. But I'm managing. I sit in a wooden rocker in the mottled shade of the trees, studded with sleeping monkeys. Draped over high branches, their limbs hang limp. They are carefully balanced yet secured by the end of their tails as they slumber through the heat of the day. I see seven in one tree alone.

Monkeys in tree

An iguana saunters by and scurries up a tree. Rich has seen a much larger one. A local named Dino. I'm sure I'll catch a glimpse eventually.

Iguana

Out front, beyond the colorful racks of kayaks and paddle boards, the ocean glitters in the sun. The water is an impossible hue of blue, only rippled by the wind then heaving and cresting into foamy white breakers against the shore. Paradise indeed.

View from rocking chair

Las Catalinas is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. I count myself under that label, but here I am compelled to reconfigure my exercise fanaticism. I arrive open to trying new sports, to make the most of the local offerings. But I'm off to a rocky start. Mountain biking and I don't get along so well. Even on my second attempt I feel my psyche getting more of a workout than my body. But trading wheels for running shoes, I suddenly find relative safety on those same trails. Funny, I never liked trail running before. Now I relish my new activity and still get the amazing views.

View from bike trails

The bay calls out to me, and I find it calm enough for distance swimming. It sure beats lap swimming in a pool. When the wind picks up, Rich and I try out boogie boards. We manage a few good rides on the waves and do a lot of floating on the swells. I see a kayak and a stand up paddle board in my future.

Evening comes quickly here. Sunset is around 6:00pm, and the lingering colors may last 20 minutes longer. Then darkness descends. The temperature moderates and a nice breeze comes off the ocean, perfect for outdoor dining on the beach.

Las Catalinas sunset
Dinner on the beach

Welcome to paradise. I think I'm getting the hang of it here.

 

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!

grandmas-marathon-logo

 

Good Morning, Lakewalk

It’s early but all the regulars are out there.  My morning running ritual takes me down the Lakewalk day after day.   There I enter my world of the familiar.  I know I should vary my routine, and I do work in some hills or head up the shore periodically.  But my feet just naturally lead me to the Lakewalk.

The route is always the same, but the experience never is.  On the grim, cloudy and windy days, I nod to my fellow runners as we pass.  We exchange knowing glances, acknowledging the brutal headwind, the chill of the air.  We share the same rugged determination.  We are out there, no matter what.

Lakewalk Lief Erikson ParkWhen the sun shines and the lake sparkles, our faces reflect the joy of our surroundings.  Our “good morning” exchanges ring out merrily.  Those are the days when the Aerial Bridge beckons irresistibly, drawing me further down the Lakewalk to its terminus in Canal Park.  Ten miles turn into 13.  But it’s worth it.

My trusty companions on the Lakewalk punctuate the miles yet loosen my brain from focusing on the rigors of my run.  Cyclists pass on their way to work, warning me with the sound of their tires or a cheery ring of a bell.  Dog walkers are always good for a “hello” and seem to have only beautiful and well mannered pooches on the end of their leashes.  Fellow runners whiz by in both directions, but usually with a wave of encouragement.

And then there’s Arley.  A fixture on the Lakewalk, his presence brightens anyone’s journey.  I first see him walking, coffee cup in hand striding purposefully at an early hour.  Next, he passes me on his bike, destined for the end of Park Point and back.  White hair flying out from under his cap, always with a chipper greeting for me.  At times he accompanies me on his bike, spinning away the miles with conversation as I run.  When the snow flies, I can count on his having cleared the portion of the Lakewalk adjacent to his house.

Molly and ArleneIt was the Lakewalk that introduced me to a kindred spirit and running friend, Arlene.  Perched on opposite sides of an ice encrusted street, we traded encouragement as we approached.  Our steps slowed to a walk, one greeting led to another and soon we were trading phone numbers to meet up for our next run.  Where else might I meet another passionate running enthusiast and heart-felt friend?  Barely a day goes by that does not find one or the other or both of us treading the Lakewalk.

Admittedly not all Lakewalk encounters are friendly.  Passing through the wooded area just past East High recently, a dark form materialized just ahead.  A tall figure wedged between the fence and a tree turned out to be an upright bear, attempting to scale the fence with his hind claws.  I’m guessing it was the inhabitant of the 36th Avenue culvert, having wandered away from his den.  Passing in a hurry, a quick glace back led me to believe he was perched atop the fence.  I wished I had a camera with me, but perhaps it was better that I didn’t linger.

It was very thoughtful of the City to extend the Lakewalk to our neighborhood just as we moved in.  And the subsequent addition of the tunnel under the highway was equally welcome.  Every morning is a good morning on the Lakewalk.

Living by the Numbers

Two huge numerical digits came to inhabit our backyard yesterday.  I planted them there, surreptitiously.  And when night fell, the timer clicked on and they proclaimed in giant illumination my husband’s new age.  60.  The big 6-0.  A turning point I have already passed.60-Birthday-Bash-Molly-RichWrangling those numbers into place drove home the numerical realities of life.  Of growing older (I refuse to say old).  Of how I have come to measure life by different standards.  Of the milestones I have reached.  Of the impact on my active lifestyle.  Admitting to my mathematical background, I can’t help but ponder my new life status from a numerical perspective.

My passion for endurance sports has not waned with my age.  But its key indicators are clearly suffering.  I’m embarrassed to find I am pleased to complete a long run squeaking in just under 10 minute miles.  Admittedly 7s are ancient history, but whatever happened to 8 or 9?  I’m learning to let go of the single digits when it comes to pace, as long as I can still rack up the mileage numbers. Thankfully marathons are still within my reach, they just take longer.  PRs have fallen by the wayside.  And forget finishing under 4 hours.  Just crossing the finish line is rewarding enough.

If I’m getting slower, so is my competition.  And here’s a case where the numbers are declining.  As I move up the age categories, the field keeps narrowing.  Moving into a new classification is exciting, as it signals yet another drop in participation.  I actually placed 3rd in my age group in a marathon ski race this winter, and won a coveted Dala horse prize.  I just choose to ignore the fact that I was 3rd out of 3.

Having taken up distance cycling just 4 years ago, I don’t have the same competitive baggage.  And rather than focus on speed and racing, Rich and I have taken up cycle touring.  Our mantra is “You see a lot more of the world when traveling at only 12 miles an hour.”  Here it’s more about the distance figures.  Our annual tours have typically taken us over 1,400 miles.  And to date our longest trip has covered 2,350 miles.  It took us nearly two months to get there, yet by the end we still wanted to keep going.  That’s a measure of success.  I’d still love to top that number.

Not all cycle rides have to be that long.  100 has a nice ring to it.  A friend talked me into a Century Ride a few years ago, and it has now become an annual tradition.  Time is not a consideration, as long as we finish cycling before dark.  Thanks to the long summer days here Up North, we have yet to fail.  We may just need to start earlier each year.

Anniversaries are another good life measure.  For 24 straight years I have shared a cross-country ski weekend with a fellow mom/career woman/friend.  We do a lot of skiing and yes, I track the kilometers.  Our range may have narrowed over the years, but our support for one another and ability to come home recharged have been a constant.  All the more reason to look forward to our 25th trip. And to hope that number will continue to grow.

No matter how I look at it, I count myself very fortunate.  A little slippage here, a bit of stagnation there isn’t bad.  I’m still out there plying the pavement, spinning my wheels and gliding over the snow.  Good health and energy are gifts whose value can’t be calculated.  Not even for those of us who live by the numbers.

Winter Resurgence

It seems a strange scene.  I stand in my bare feet and swim suit, peering out into the darkness at 6:15am.  The outside floodlights are on, and they illuminate a world blanketed in white.  I expected the snow.  In fact, it’s the reason for my one-piece lycra apparel.  Assuming it would be too deep for running, I had decided on an alternate workout this morning.  But I hadn’t counted on the landscape now in my field of vision.

Every branch is outlined in white.  The thin boughs are magnified by a fluffy coating of snow much thicker than their own sinewy skeletons.  The woods surrounding our house are no longer a transparent winter veil but a lacy wall enclosing our abode.  I can already picture the Lakewalk rimmed by more ghostly shapes.  It is much too good to miss.

March Snowfall 1Despite the dim predawn light, many have preceded me down the trail.  Footsteps are plentiful, crisscrossed by bicycle tracks and the wide treads of fat tire bikes.  The snow is not as deep as I feared, but the wet fluff lies over a layer of slush.  Messy but not slippery, it makes for slow and arduous progress but poses little danger of falling.March Snowfall 2

The world is silenced by the snowfall.  Footfalls and tire rotations are muted, but faces are glowing.  “Isn’t this beautiful?” seems to be on the lips of all I pass.

I don’t normally take the small bypass in front of the town homes at The Ledges.  But the chance to get closer to the lake draws me down the indistinct path.  My impulse is rewarded, seeing the dry stalks of fall flocked with snow silhouetted against the gray-blue of Lake Superior, and framing the iconic Aerial Bridge.

March Snowfall 3 March Snowfall 4While just yesterday the Lakewalk was perfectly clear for easy running, I have no complaints about this resurgence of winter.  It taught me to seize the moment, change my plans, stop and take pictures.  And best of all, enjoy my surroundings.

March Snowfall 5March Snowfall 6