Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Race" report: Not exactly the Minneapolis Marathon

At 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 1, my friend Jenn Senos and I were at the shuttle stop, ready to run the Minneapolis Marathon. The race was scheduled to start at 6:30, 5 miles from here. But the weather was foreboding. I had seen multiple lightning strikes on my way to the shuttle, and the Facebook update from the race director suggested that we might not start on time.

Just before we boarded the bus, they told us to go inside the Renaissance Depot hotel and wait further instructions; the start was delayed until at least 7:30.

We headed back inside and waited nervously. Here's a photo Jenn's husband snapped of us in the hotel lobby:

Nope, we're not nervous at all!
We were finally called out to the buses at 6:45. By 7 am, we were at the starting area, and things were looking up. A light rain was falling, but no lightning was in sight. I put my jacket in a drop bag and headed to the start line. Along with several thousand others, we lined up according to our planned pace. In our case, we were about halfway between the 8:00 and the 8:30 banners.

Then we waited. 7:30 came and went. Finally at 7:45 we saw some folks ahead of us running. Unfortunately, they were running the wrong way, right toward us. "The race is cancelled!"

We could hardly believe it. But more and more runners were headed back to the parking / shuttle area, and all of them had the same words. It hardly seemed possible; the weather was looking fine.

I turned to Jenn. "Want to just run back to the hotel?" I needed to run 26.2 that day as part of my training plan; I might as well get the miles done outside as long as the weather held. Jenn, on the other hand, had been hoping to PR at this race, and possibly qualify for Boston. It didn't make sense for her to run the whole marathon if it wasn't going to count. But if she wasn't going to race, it probably did make sense for her to at least do a long run, and if we followed the race route, we could finish a half-marathon.

"Sure," said Jenn. While most runners turned around, we headed up towards the start line. When we arrived, a volunteer told us we could run on our own, but we had to remove our race numbers. So we did, and along with several hundred others, headed out onto the course.

There was no rain, but there were no course markings or aid stations either. Running 13 miles this way would be no problem, but 26.2 might be tough. But amazingly, some spectators still lined the course, including a more-appropriate-than-ever "Worst Parade Ever" sign.

At Mile 4, Jenn stopped to call her coach to try to come up with a plan now that the race was cancelled. I took the opportunity to take a photo of some of the other "racers":

This shot won't be on MarathonFoto...

As you can see, quite a few people decided to buck the weather and run anyways!

Jenn's coach agreed that she should just run 13.1 miles, so we continued on with a plan of just stopping at the halfway point. Here we are crossing the Mississippi the first time:

Feeling good!
After we crossed the river, the course took a more "industrial" turn, and we were on a road with no sidewalks. It was the kind of road you run on in a race and think to yourself "It's a good thing the streets are closed for this." Unfortunately, the streets weren't closed. Fortunately, drivers in Minneapolis are quite courteous to runners. They would even stop for us at intersections when they had a green light and we were jay-walking (jay-running?).

Amazingly, at some of the aid stations, volunteers decided to show up and hand out water despite the race cancellation. I had a 1-liter water bottle that was half-full when I started, and occasionally I'd stop at one of these bandit aid stations and get a half-refill -- it didn't make sense to carry a full liter when it looked like there would be plenty of places I could refill along the way.

At one point, I knew the course detoured onto a small island in the middle of the river. Some runners ahead of us went that way, so we followed along. The two runners behind us said "they know where they are going -- they have a map on their phone."

Eventually we caught up to the runners ahead of us and said "we heard you know where you are going."

"We have NO IDEA," they said. "We're just making this up."

So we all ran around on the little island for a bit, then crossed back onto shore. As it turned out, we had spent too much time on the island. We passed one of the mile markers that hadn't yet been removed from the course, and we were a half-mile farther along than we should have been.

Finally we got back to the river and crossed again, about Mile 12. I didn't stop to take a picture, but here's a shot I took of myself earlier in the week when the weather was better:

Lookin' good!

Soon we were at the finish area, where Jenn wisely decided to stop running after doing 13.5 miles. Since I was planning on running 26.2 miles today as a part of my training plan, and since the weather seemed to be holding out, I decided to continue on alone.

There were not nearly as many runners on this section of the course, and I began to wonder if there would be any aid-station bandits to support us along the way. Since this was now just a regular long run for her, Jenn and I had slowed well below her target marathon pace, but I wanted to see if I could pick things back up again. Surely I was in shape to run a 3:35 marathon, just as we had been planning. So for a few miles, I did pick up the pace to 8:10 per mile. But as the miles wore on, 16, 17, 18, I found that pace harder and harder to maintain. I don't know if it was the humidity (it was definitely a damp day) or the fact that I had to carry my own water in a too-big water bottle, or the lack of other runners to motivate me, but I was just not able to hold that pace.

I was also starting to run low on water. I hadn't seen an aid station or a water fountain in miles. We were on a greenway next to the river, but there were no businesses or other establishments where I might be able to fill up. I started to see other runners who had already reached the turnaround and were headed back home. "Is there any water ahead," I asked one of them.

"I don't think so," he said. This could get interesting.

Then, finally, at mile 18.5, some volunteers were handing out water and gels out of the back of their car. Just in the nick of time!

It was unclear exactly where to turn around; the second half of the race was just a giant out-and-back along the river, but with no course markings, you couldn't be sure where to turn. After doing some calculations in my head I decided that I could turn at 19.75 miles, regardless of whether there were any markings. Finally I was on my way home.

But I was tired; the humidity had definitely caught up with me. I refilled my water again at the Mile 18.5 station (now Mile 21) and prepared for a tough final 5 miles. I counted down as each mile ticked away. There were still quite a few people behind me heading out, and we exchanged knowing greetings. Many folks had ignored the request to remove their race numbers, and I wished I had too, the better to connect with my fellow rebel racers. My pace was now slower than 9 minutes per mile.

Finally I arrived at the "finish."  It wasn't pretty, but it was done. All that remained at the finish was a few employees putting the last of the stockpiled supplies into a rental truck. "How did you do?" one them asked.

My Garmin read 26.26 miles. "Unofficially,  3:54:15," I said.

"Sounds pretty official to me," she replied. "Would you like a finisher's medal?"

"You still have medals? Sure, I'll take one."

I took my phone out to get a picture of myself at the "finish line." But between the gentle mist falling from the sky and my sweaty hand, I couldn't get the phone's photo app icon to recognize my click and start the camera. I looked for a paper towel, anything dry that I could use to clean off my camera, but by then everything had been loaded onto the truck. The guy right behind me got a medal, but after that, everything was hauled off and the finish line went back to being an ordinary park.

It wasn't the race I had hoped for; it definitely wasn't the race Jenn was hoping for. But all in all, it was a pretty neat experience. I enjoyed being one of the few dozen runners who went ahead and ran a marathon that day. I may not get my results posted online, but I enjoyed running the Minneapolis Marathon.

The Garmin record of my "race" is below.

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