Mike Burr shares his Grandma’s Marathon experience
by Mike Burr | July 1, 2003
The starting gun goes off, and we all stand around and look at each other. The elite runners at the head of the pack are zooming down Old Highway 61 at about 5 minutes per mile. Those of us in the middle of the pack are so crowded together we can't take even one step. About a minute later the crowd starts to shuffle forward. Not yet even walking pace, but at least we are moving. Another minute goes by and we are now at a fast walk. Another minute goes by and we are now at a slow jog. Four minutes after the race started we finally get up to the starting line, not too bad considering that the runners at the back of the pack won't get there for another four minutes.
At this point nobody really cares about the time lost getting to the starting line. For most of the runners the finish line is over four hours away, and the electronic chip attached to their shoe will record their exact elapsed time anyway.
The crowd thins out and everybody settles into their pace, the problem is not everybody is running at the same pace. For the first mile, runners are jostling for position, dodging slower runners, getting out of the way of faster runners. By the first mile marker everything seems to have smoothed out.
Anyone aiming for an Olympic Trials Qualifying time was out of sight, ahead of us from the start. The group of runners I am with have much more modest goals. Some runners were aiming for a specific time, maybe a personal best, maybe a Boston Qualifier, maybe some arbitrary time. For some, the goal was just to finish, the clock not having much meaning for them. My goal was to break 3:50:00 on a good day, 4:05:00 on a bad day. This seemed a pretty good day, except for the blazing sun.
As the miles go by, the runners settle into their paces. Everybody is in their own little world, not much talking going on, conserving energy, focusing on the basics: balance, rhythm, breathing. After a while the mind starts to wander. Time for reflection on the path that got us to this point. For some, it was rising at 5:00 a.m. to put in their miles, others sneaked them in on their lunch break, still others were out pounding the pavement at midnight.
I was in the latter group. The easiest time to get in the miles was at the end of the day, after work is over and the daily grind has ended. Running in the dark of night was like a catharsis. A quiet solitude in which the mind could reflect on the day's events and reach an inner peace, except this was Northern Minnesota in the middle of winter. Some of my log entries are almost surreal: Feb. 9, three miles at 8:54 pace, about 10 below, windy, past midnight; Feb. 26, three miles at 7:46 pace, about 2:00 a.m., with the flu: Mar. 9, 5.2 miles at 8:20 pace, five below, 10 mph wind; Apr. 3, five miles at 8:56 pace, running on snow and ice, windy. Some of the conditions were tough, but I was still able to focus and find a rhythm.
When the weather got better, so did my times. Several personal bests fell along the way. At a 30 kilometer race, I finished 22 minutes ahead of last year's time. At a half marathon I finished 11 minutes ahead of last year. Based on those results I set my sights high for this race. I was going to try and hold a 8:45 pace the entire race. If I could do that, it would mean a new personal record by 18 minutes. Last year that would have seemed impossible.
As the race went on, the number of runners around me thinned out, some moving ahead, some falling behind. I caught up to an old friend at about the nine-mile mark, and I do mean old. Lloyd Young of Pine City holds dozens of Minnesota state age group records. I saw him set a new national record for 79-year-olds in the 12 kilometer distance at Grand Rapids last year. I had a great view since I finished 20 seconds behind him. When I crossed the finish line I went to congratulate the guy who had pulled away from me over the last half mile. I was stunned to find out how old he was.
Following a brief chat with Lloyd, he pulled over for a water stop, and I continued on my way. I reached the halfway point one minute ahead of my goal pace. So far so good, but the blazing sun was starting to takes its toll. I made sure to take water at each station, not stopping, just grabbing the cup from the volunteer and drinking while I continued to run.
I hit the 16-mile mark still a minute ahead of pace, but I knew I was in trouble. My left leg was starting to hurt. By mile 18 I had given back the minute I was ahead. Shortly after that, my left knee painfully locked up on me. The rest of the race was a mixture of walking and slow jogging. That was when I really appreciated the 4,000 volunteers who manned the water stations. Some of them had been doing this for years, and were offering more than just water or sport drink. Some had orange slices, some had lemon drops, some had red licorice. When I was on pace I took only liquids. Now that I had no chance to reach my goal, I could take the time to indulge in the extra offerings.
I finally reached the finish line in about 4:17 chip time, about two minutes behind the average finishing time of all runners. I joined the thousands of other finishers in the recovery area, turning in my chip, grabbing bottles of water, waiting in line for ice cream or a muscle message.
I was disappointed with my time, but not with the experience. I, like most runners, had a great weekend. 7,000 runners lined up at the starting line is a sight to behold. I got to meet some old friends and make new ones. I got to meet Dick Beardsley again, always a nice guy to talk to.
I will probably be back next year to try and conquer the course again, but I will be stronger and more determined. I think it’s time to go for a run. A side note: the results show that Lloyd Young came in eight minutes ahead of me. After the race in Grand Rapids, I had vowed that I would never be beaten by an 80-year-old man. It is a good thing that old Lloyd doesn't turn 80 until next month.
Local participants include:
The Hadrich family: John, Brenda, Ben, and Mychal. John, age 50, and Brenda, age 49, finished the Bjorklund Half Marathon in 1:57:24 and 2:29:15 respectively. They do a lot of cross training, including biking, weightlifting, and walking, throughout the year. They did specific training for the race the 12 weeks leading up to it, with John averaging 10 to 15 miles per week and Brenda averaging 15 to 20 miles per week. This was John's 3rd time running the races, having finished the marathon in 2001 and the half marathon last year. This was Brenda's second time running the half marathon. They plan to remain active year-round but do not anticipate running any other races.
Ben Hadrich, age 19, finished Grandma's Marathon in 3:28:08. He is a member of St. Scholastica's cross-country team and before that he was a stand out on the McGregor High School's track and cross country teams. He ran year round with marathon specific training starting in February and averaged 50 to 60 miles per week. This was his 3rd time running Grandma's, having improved by 44 minutes over his first time. He plans to continue running through the summer in preparation for the fall cross country season.
Mychal Hadrich, age 14, finished the William A. Irving 5k in 20:38, a very respectable time that placed him 77th overall out of 1,018 finishers. He is a member of the McGregor High School's track and cross-country teams and this was his 2nd year running the Irving 5k.
Kyle Smith, age 16, finished Grandma's Marathon in 3:55:07. A member of Cromwell High School's cross-country and track teams, he did 5 weeks of marathon specific training averaging 25 to 30 miles per week. He has run in some shorter road races in the past, but this was his first time running Grandma's. He plans to keep training and run in some local races in Floodwood and Carlton.
Mike Burr, age 40, finished Grandma's Marathon in 4:17:38. He has been seriously running for two years and has run in over a dozen races with Grandma's being his 4th marathon. He ran year-round with marathon specific training starting in January and averaging 30 to 40 miles per week. He plans on running in several upcoming area races including the Walker 10k, the Aitkin JC's Run To The Dump, and the Mora Half Marathon.
Sue Pletschett, age 33, finished Grandma's Marathon in 5:16:51. She started training for the marathon in February and averaged 30 to 40 miles per week. Her mileage was seriously diminished the 4 weeks leading up to the marathon due to her job. She ran the marathon last year and the Bjorklund Half Marathon the 2 years before that. She plans to run in upcoming local races including the Walker 10k.
Jennifer Houck, age 19, finished the Bjorklund Half Marathon in 1:41:12. She is a member of the St. Cloud State cross-country team and also ran indoor track. She did race specific training for eight weeks averaging 15 - 20 miles per week. She ran the race with her friend Samantha Smith. Besides the school races, she has run in only one road race previous to the Bjorklund. She would like to run in some local races if her work schedule permits.
Samantha Smith, age 16, finished the Bjorklund Half Marathon in 1:41:12. She trained specifically for it for about 10 weeks, averaging 12 to 15 miles per week. This was her first road race, though she is a member of the Cromwell High School's track and cross-country teams. She may run in local 5k and 10k races this summer.
Teri Arnold, age 32, finished the Bjorklund Half Marathon in 1:45:44
Beth Hanni, age 24, finished the Bjorklund Half Marathon in 2:00:55
Patricia and Gordon Fisher, both age 53, finished the Bjorklund Half Marathon in 2:19:06 and 2:21:13 respectively. They are active year round averaging about 10 miles per week. They did race specific training for the 8 weeks leading up to the race, averaging 15 to 20 miles per week. They had run the Bjorklund last year, but have no immediate plans to run other races.
Annie Lally, age 25, finished the Bjorklund Half Marathon in 2:11:08. This was her first Grandma’s Marathon experience. She trained with her dog Isaac. Also a member of the Striders running club at Minnesota Power. No plans to run any other races this summer.
Upcoming races in the local area include:
July 18, Park Point 5-Miler, Duluth, contact 218-727-0947; July 19, JC's Run To The Dump 1/4 marathon, Aitkin, contact 218-549-3614; Aug. 2, Cross Lake Dam 10k, Cross Lake, contact 218-568-5242; Aug. 2, Tall Timber 5k & 10k, Grand Rapids, contact 218-327-1161; Aug.16, Mora Half Marathon, Mora, contact 320-679-1838; Sept. 27th, Walker North Country 10k & marathon, Walker, contact 218-547-4157.There have also been races in Floodwood on Catfish Days, Carlton on Carlton Days, and Kettle River on Ma And Pa Kettle Days. Anyone who is really interested can run Grandma's marathon next year. A general plan would be to use the remaining six months of this year to build a mileage base, eventually getting up to about 20 to 25 miles per week with a long run of 10 to 13 miles. Then start marathon specific training in Jan. or Feb. of next year. You should of course get your doctor's okay before beginning any exercise program.
This article first appeared in the July 1, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.