Monday, June 20, 2016

Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon 2016

I wasn't so sure about this, going in. I was coming to dread the weekly long runs, I was worried about a dreadful 10K I had run in early May (hampered by a respiratory bug that would not go away). I was thinking I needed a break from running, for a while. But then, stuff like this happens. A great race when everything works out. This is the story of how it happened.

My daughter Nina and I set out for Duluth, a mere hour's drive from our house, at about 11:30 Friday morning. We had a place to stay, in a large suite in a converted warehouse building in Duluth's Canal Park, thanks to my long time friend Val. This was the second year we would be staying with this group of runners, and we knew it would be fun. But first, shopping. Race essentials, of course. We went to the mall and we both decided we needed Sanuk sandals for post race. It would turn out to be a great decision.

We arrived at the hotel, and I parked my car, not to be touched until Sunday. That was kind of nice. Driving in and out of Canal Park on marathon weekend is a hassle that is best avoided.

We then walked to the expo at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC) to pick up our race packets and get free samples of stuff. It was very crowded. This was the very same spot I had attended a Bernie Sanders rally a few months ago. I ended up buying the race belt I needed, and a few headbands that I thought were pretty cool. We went to the huge spaghetti dinner that is a Grandma's Marathon tradition. They had Ben and Jerry's ice cream for dessert. I had Cherry Garcia, one of my favorites. 

Our suite has strict pre race night rules: lights out at 9 PM, which is good, since half marathon runners have to wake up at 4 AM. Nina and I slept on a very luxurious queen air mattress that was provided by our new friend JoElle. I kept waking up because the refrigerator was making strange noises, but when my phone alarm rang I felt well rested.

We grabbed hotel breakfast, and weak coffee, on our way to the buses. I normally don't eat much before a run, so I had half a banana, and half a bagel with peanut butter. I watched the sun rise over Lake Superior on the school bus that took us to the start. We arrived approximately 45 minutes before starting time. Plenty of time, right? Actually, not Due to the very rural, small nature of the starting area, we had to walk about half a mile from where the bus dropped us off. There were portable toilets spaced along this route, and huge lines at each of them. Nina and I eventually chose one, and the line turned out to move exceptionally slow. I was in the bathroom when the starting horn sounded. No worries, chip timing. 

I finally crossed the starting line about 10 minutes after the official start. My plan was to run the first six miles conservatively, and I kept checking Map My Run for a pace. The first mile clocked in at 11:08. Perfect. I also wanted to remember something about each mile of the race, and for the first mile I remembered running by McQuade Harbor on Lake Superior. The second mile was something about lupines framing an incredible lake view. I almost wanted to stop and take a picture, but I had a half marathon to run. So I kept to my strategy of getting the first half of the race behind me without thinking too much. That worked. My mile paces were pretty consistent. 

The first six miles of the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon are run along a two lane scenic highway along Lake Superior. Scenic, but not much for spectators. Still, there are the conversations among runners. I can't imagine chatting with people while running a half. Part of me wants to wear headphones and listen to music to drown it all out next time, the other part is intrigued.

My plan was to take a gel at 4 miles, but somehow I missed the water station, so I had to wait until 6 miles because I did not want to take a gel without water. Oh well, I felt fine and I was not stopping. At six miles the scenic road turns into London Road on the outskirts of Duluth, a residential highway where spectator participation increases. There was music. There were bacon stands. I noticed a guy running barefoot. Wow. 

After six miles, it was starting to get hot, and humid. I felt strong, but I started walking intervals to pace myself. Between seven and eight miles, I blessedly forgot if the next mile was seven or eight, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was indeed the eighth mile already. Between eight and nine miles, the course takes its steepest hill. I walked the hill, having nothing to prove and a lot to lose. Then the course turned on to Superior Street, the heart of downtown Duluth. The energy really picks up there, but the street is quaint cobblestone so you have to watch your step. The Superior Street portion seems to go on forever, but when you turn the corner and head towards the harbor that means there is only a mile left. And, I was feeling better that I remember feeling on this course last year at that point. I had taken another energy gel at mile 9. Good to go. 

This was taken by a race photographer on a bridge that goes over I-35 towards Duluth Harbor and the end of the race. I normally ignore race photographers, but I was feeling so good and having such a good time, I played along. 

The rest of the course winds around the DECC and two blocks to Canal Park Drive and a couple blocks to the finish. It seems to take forever. But I ran most of that last mile, and I was one of those runners who did the sprint thing in the last quarter mile and passed maybe five runners before the finish. It was over. And I didn't feel like I was about to die. I was full of life!

I can't fully say what this race did for me. It renewed my confidence as a runner. I did everything right, and I could have done it faster had it not been for the heat. I had the support of a suite full of running friends, and I enjoyed the rest of Saturday with a walk with Nina to the beach, and then reading and chilling out by the ship canal. Duluth is beautiful, I am so thankful I can run, and I am looking forward again to more races and maybe longer distances.