Grandma's Marathon is Bert's first, and my second. A world of difference separates the two. Grandma's tests Bert mentally, physically, and emotionally, most visibly on race day, but also in training. I am simply there to assure him that he can finish.
Marathon training has pervaded Bert's life since last November, when he made the decision to train for and run a marathon. This is natural. Before completing a marathon, one wonders, `Can I do it?'. In the absence of some relevant medical condition, the theoretical answer is, `Of course'. However, it turns out that for this question, theoretical arguments are sadly lacking in authority. Solid empirical evidence, in the form of completing a marathon, is the only way to be really sure.
The training for my first marathon dominated my waking hours. What shocks me was how little I think about the training for my second. Since I want to race at Columbia, I follow a triathlon training plan instead of a marathon training plan. Long intervals separate my long runs, and seven weeks pass between my last long run and the marathon. I simply am not concerned.
On the other hand, Bert is definitely concerned. He busily manages plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the plantar fascia connective tissue in the sole of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is a common injury during increases in training duration or intensity. I endured it for several months while training for the 1997 Marine Corps Marathon, and it was worrisome, not to mention painful. Eventually, my training leveled off, I got some rest, and my plantar fasciitis has essentially disappeared. In a few months, Bert will likely trace my experience, but at present this prediction is small comfort.
I don't begin to feel Grandma's Marathon until a week before the race, when phantom injuries attack my knees and my feet. I mistakenly run 5 miles in a worn out pair of shoes. Subsequently, I am sure that I have injured my right knee. I ice it. The next day the pain mysteriously moves to my left knee. I am greatly relieved to deduce that the real problem is mental. Although I now know that both knees are fine, I ice the left knee anyway. I wonder if ice on my head would help.
My first marathon taught me that I could complete the distance, and I don't require a second lesson. Eventually, I will try to discover out how fast I can run a marathon, at which point 26.2 miles will reacquire its aura of intimidation. At present, however, I am more concerned about failing to maintain my end of the bargain with Bert than I am about failing to finish the course.
The Thursday before the marathon, I fly to Des Moines, where Bert picks me up. It is an ominous beginning. My jet circles thunderheads and manages to land seconds before a major cell sweeps through the Des Moines airport. We drive the 400 miles to Duluth through steady, sometimes heavy, rain. Dense fog envelops the Mesaba ridge just outside Duluth, and a storm on Lake Superior whips sheets of rain horizontally past the Route 2 bridge. I wonder how anyone manages to cross the bridge in winter when the storms carry ice instead rain.
Friday, we pick up our race packets and tour the course, which runs point to point from Two Harbors along the shore of Lake Superior. The seemingly endless miles are marked on the pavement with two foot high white letters. Bert is mesmerized; 26.2 miles is a very long way.
Some of the local establishments have tried to be helpful by using their signs to proclaim `Only n miles to go!'. Fortunately, we notice on Friday that the proprietors failed to consult the race course before putting up their signs, and the actual distances vary considerably from those advertised. This sort of deduction is difficult to make during a race, and nearly impossible in the late stages of a marathon, when even simple mental activities become alarmingly difficult. For example, it can easily take the entire distance between two mile markers to compute average pace.
At the pasta dinner, we restrict ourselves to a light meal despite solid appetites. The mere possibility of gastric distress on the race course serves to limit our meal. We chat amiably with fellow runners at our table, and then turn in for an early bedtime.
At 5:30 the next morning we board busses to the race start. The fog is so dense we never actually see the entire group of runners at once. The state police keep order; that is, the state police make it clear that bathroom breaks are to take place in the portable toilets, and not on the side of the road. We wait through the line at the first bank of toilets, and then walk towards that starting area, only to get right back in line at the next bank. Prerace hydration is like that.
To account for the remote possibility that the fog may lift, we lather ourselves in sunscreen and don hats and shades. Grandma's is incredibly well organized. Each runner is issued a plastic sack for starting area baggage. We put our sweatshirts, sunscreen, and other odds and ends into our bags and hang them on the fence. Busy volunteers ensure they arrive long before we do at the finish area.
We start smoothly and cross the line within two minutes of the gun. We enforce periodic walking breaks to keep our overall pace on nine minute miles. GU goes down on regular intervals, and our water bottles ensure a steady intake of XLR8 and water. Supportive crowds line the course, and a thoughtful fraternity offers beer. We decline, but the number of empty cups indicate that there are plenty of takers. We tire, but maintain an even pace until Bert acquires calf cramps in the last two miles. We slow dramatically in the last mile, but remember to take off our hats and shades and look up at the finish line cameras. I ignore the race volunteer who tries to direct us into separate chutes at the finish line, and Bert and I cross as close together as is possible. The time is several minutes under four hours, which works out to nine minutes miles. We are delighted.
We stagger about the finish area, barely avoiding falls. We inefficiently manage the necessary tasks: wrap up in a space blanket, collect our finisher medals, find our gear, claim our finisher T-shirts, and get some food. Two large ships oblige by passing under the lift bridge; they are enormous from a distance of a few yards. We head to the hotel for hot shower, and I locate some soup and fries. After XLR8 and GU, we crave salt, not sugar.
We celebrate with an early dinner at Bellisio's. I spring for the wine, a nice Barbaresco, and Bert buys the food, which turns out to be excellent. We drink to brotherhood, to health, and to our day's accomplishment, all of which are intertwined. Although our legs hurt and we are exhausted, we feel very good.
Early the next morning we start the the mind numbing 400 mile drive back to Des Moines. We extract ourselves from the car and feel the need for some exercise, so we try out Bert's almost brand new Trek on the local trails. Afterwards we visit Seven Flags, where Bert puts in 20 minutes on the treadmill while I swim a kilometer in the pool. We both step into the whirlpool and then the steam room. We emerge relaxed and refreshed.
The next morning I fly home, mission accomplished. Bert is Marathon Man! Who's next?
You may wish to visit the home page for Grandma's Marathon.