On Friday afternoon, my mom and Jaden and I headed up to Duluth so that I could run the Garry Bjorklund half marathon. It was about a 3 1/2 hour drive from our house. We got to Duluth around 3:30 and headed straight to the expo. There was a huge line on the freeway that was backed up leading to the exit for the Convention Center. We were able to find a parking spot and then headed inside to immediately find a bathroom.
Once that was taken care of, we made our way through the crowds to pick up my packet. That was pretty easy, and I was able to check my timing chip. Then we went to look through some of the vendors. The expo was super-crowded. There were too many people. The booths were way too close together. It was really warm and stuffy inside.
I managed to get a few Bondi Bands (I love those) and I bought a running skirt that I hope is going to work out. (I’m really picky and I’ve bought and returned a ton of them in the past year.) There were some other booths I wanted to check out, but by that point we had been there for a couple hours and I was sick and tired of the crowds…and I’m pretty sure Jaden and my mom were getting bored. They had picked up all the free noisemakers and chocolate milk they could get their hands on. And I was ready to get off my feet for a while.
We went back over the bridge to Superior and over to my uncle’s house. We were staying with him for the night. Way cheaper than a hotel! I’m glad he moved up there a few weeks ago. And he only lived about 20 minutes from the nearest bus pick up.
Since it is a point to point course, I was going to have to park somewhere and get a ride to the start line. I asked at the Information Desk at the Expo about which bus would be the closest to Superior. She told me to park at the same place I parked for the expo…which also happened to be right at the finish line. Awesome! I wouldn’t have to worry about catching a bus back to my car after the race.
After heading out for Chinese food for dinner, my mom and my uncle decided to enjoy an evening of grocery shopping (seriously) and dropped Jaden and I off at the house so that we could get ready for bed. I laid out all my stuff for the morning and tried to fall asleep. I set the alarm on my phone for 3:45 a.m. Yikes.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fall asleep. I tried. I just wasn’t tired. I laid there with my eyes closed for hours. I even heard my mom and my uncle come back from their exciting grocery shopping expedition!
When I finally did fall asleep, I didn’t sleep well. I would wake up every now and then and reach over to look at the time on my phone. I was terrified I was going to sleep through the alarm.
3:33. Screw it. I’ll just get up.
I took a quick shower. I know it is weird to shower before a race, especially that early in the morning, but it is the only thing that will wake me up. I got dressed as quietly as possible. I went downstairs to heat up my typical pre-race breakfast of white rice with cinnamon and sugar. I put the container and a spoon in my purse and decided to eat it as I drove to the bus stop. It is hard to force myself to eat anything at 4:10 in the morning.
The drive to the bus was uneventful. There is very little traffic on Tower Street in Superior that early in the morning. The one car I did see ended up making a U-turn in front of me to get into the 24 hour McDonalds. Hard to tell if they were up early or up late.
I found a parking spot and sat in the warm car for a while. It was still dark out and I had some time before the buses would be loading. I left my nice hoodie in the car and put on an old one. I also put a plastic garbage bag on over the top of that. I didn’t want to get wet. It wasn’t really raining, but it was very foggy and misty. At the last minute, I decided to wear my baseball cap. I don’t mind running in the rain, but I hate getting water in my face.
I locked the car, grabbed my gear bag and got in line with a ton of other crazy people to wait for the buses to the start line.
There was some talk about wishing that the race started at 8:00 instead of 6:45. I’m sure that the time is set because of the permits needed to close the roads, but it would be so much nicer to be able to sleep just a bit later. I chatted with a couple people in line and on the bus. Some people had done this race before and they seemed to be a bit bummed that the weather was going to be blocking any chance we had at enjoying the view.
When the bus dropped us off at the start line, I started to make my way to the porta potties. They were probably 1/2 a mile away. Suddenly, I heard someone say my name. Seriously?!? Over 7800 runners, and I run into the one other person I know running the half marathon?! Crazy. Even crazier…she rocked her first half marathon with a 2:01 finish. Way to go, Liz!
I made my way to the porta potties. Once again, I employed my strategy of getting back in line as soon as I got out. What can I say? Nervous bladder. I’m glad I did that because the lines got much longer as more people arrived at the start line.
I’m told that grey slab behind the porta potties is the lake. Kinda hard to tell.
Eventually, I made my way back toward the drop off area to hand my gear bag off to the volunteers at the Uhaul trucks. I waited as late as possible to try to stay warm. I kept the garbage bag on in an attempt to stay as warm and dry as possible until the starting gun went off.
Since this race is also the USA Half Marathon Championship, there were quite a few elites there. I didn’t get to see any of them, but I did hear the gun go off for their start time. They started about 15 minutes before the rest of the field.
I lined up between the 1:50 and 2:00 pace groups. I had a goal to try to come in around 1:55. I really wished there had a been a 1:55 pacer. I tore my garbage bag off a couple minutes before the start of the race. It served me well and helped me to stay relatively warm and dry.
The gun went off and it took a while for me to make my way to the starting mat. I tried to find a good pace, without starting out too fast. I could see why people call this a beautiful course. As you can see by the map, we run right along Lake Superior for most of the course. However, the foggy/misty weather prevented me from seeing more than a block or two ahead of me at any time. The course wasn’t very beautiful that day. But the weather was perfect for running. Nice and cool.
This course is really flat (other than a bridge toward the end). It was nice to be able to find a decent pace and not have to worry too much about hills. My first mile was the slowest mile…there was a lot of crowding and some jostling for position, but I still managed to run it in under 9:00. After that point, I tried to stay around the 8:35-8:45 pace. There were a couple times when I would look down and see that I was running a bit fast and I would slow myself down. I was feeling really good, but I didn’t want to run out of steam and not be able to finish strong.
You can tell by the photos how foggy it was. Even with the less than stellar weather, the crowd support was pretty good. For the first half or so of the race, there wasn’t much fan support, simply because there wasn’t any way for the fans to get to the course. The people who lived along the course were out in their driveways cheering us on. And the water station volunteers were very encouraging as well.
As a side note, I don’t think I have ever been part of a race where I’ve seen sign for the ‘elite water bottles.’ The elites had their own tables at the beginning of each water station where they had their water. By the time I got to the water stations, the tables were empty. The half marathon elites had already been through and the full marathon elites weren’t there yet. I’m assuming that the elites had ‘people’ who were going to set up their bottles for them before they got there.
I am not an elite, so I had to just take my paper cup of water and keep running. The water stations were very clearly marked. The water was always first. The Powerade was always second. They also had signs for ice and sponges and some of the water stops. There were a couple spots that had bananas and one aid station had orange slices and strawberries. I made a beeline for the orange slices. There is nothing better at mile 10 of a half marathon than an orange slice!
After we got about half way, the crowd support was better. We went through a small town…must have been a northern suburb of Duluth. If I was really cool, I would know the name of that town. I’m not that cool. Deal with it.
Anyway, there were people lining the streets and cheering and holding signs. The best sign of the day goes to the guy with this one: “You think you’re tired-I’ve been holding this sign.” Made me smile.
I was pretty much able to keep my pace in the 8:35-8:45 range for the first 10 miles. That is usually the point in the race where I check in with myself and see how I’m doing. I was feeling really good, so I decided to pick up the pace a little bit for the last few miles.
Then I saw that I needed to run up that bridge. That was no joke! It was pretty much straight up. I’m assuming there was water under that bridge, but the fog prevented me from seeing it. (the benefit of all the fog is that I didn’t see the bridge coming. I didn’t know it was there until I was practically there!) What I did see were two bagpipers on the top of the bridge. They were playing and everyone seemed to love it. I have to admit that I don’t see a whole lot of bagpipers at races. Most of the time the crowd is playing a cowbell.
But, what goes up must come down! I used gravity to my full advantage and was able to maintain a good pace for that mile, despite the hill. As we neared the park where the finish line was, the crowds got even bigger. We ran through a part of Duluth with some old brick roads. We ran along the water by the port and there were some pretty good sized ships.
We had to make a series of turns as we approached the park and the finish line. At this point, I knew that I was going to reach my goal of finishing in under 1:55. I just wanted to give it everything I had at the end. I pushed through and was able to cross the line in 1:52:48! I am super-excited about that time. The best part is that I felt so good the whole time. The worst part is that I crossed the finish line with something left in the tank. I can’t help but think “could I have run with the 1:50 pace group?”
I honestly can’t believe my pace for those last couple miles. Who does that?!? (I guess I do.) I never thought that miles 11, 12, and 13 would be my fastest of the race. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t slowed myself down in the early miles.
I love the detailed statistics that I got from the race. They also had the option of athlete tracking. So every time I crossed one of the timing mats, Tim got a text message with my progress.
After I finished, I made my way through the finishing chute. I have to say that this was the least organized portion of the entire event. I felt like I walked a long way before I got a bottle of water. Then there was another long walk to the medal. Another bit of walking before I got the finisher’s shirt. I was already shivering. After some more walking, I finally got the mylar blanket. Then we were given a choice. Go left for food. Go right to get your gear bag.
I went to get the food, thinking that I could just grab my gear bag on the way out. The food wasn’t set up very logically. First there was some yogurt. I grabbed a container and a spoon. Then a saw a table with jars of peanut butter. I had to look around before I found the bagels. Then I had to double back to the peanut butter. And because my hands were full (water bottle, shirt, yogurt, bagel, mylar blanket) and because I was shivering, I couldn’t really get the peanut butter onto the bagel. I also grabbed some chocolate milk, a banana and a couple strawberries.
By this point, I was violently shivering and I knew I needed to get my gear bag and put my sweatshirt on. I walked out of the food area and tried to find out how to get to the gear bag area. I had to weave around and finally made my way there. The men’s gear bags were set up in one area and there were volunteers telling the women to cut through the men or walk around the back. I finally made it to the women’s area and lined up according to my bib number. As I neared the front of the line, I made eye contact with one of the volunteers. She must have seen how cold and miserable I was because she looked down at my bib number and went to grab my bag, even though there were other women in front of me. I thanked her profusely and immediately found a place where I could set everything down and get my sweatshirt on.
I really wanted another piece of bagel, but I wasn’t about to fight the crowds to get back to the food area. Instead, I decided to head to the car. I knew that I was parked close…I just had no idea how to get there. I looked for someone who looked like they were from the area. I finally asked a guy if he knew where the lot was. He told me I was walking the wrong way. I turned around and followed his simple directions and got to the car. I turned the heat on high and tried to stop shivering before I headed back.
After some GPS confusion (all the roads I was supposed to turn on were closed due to the race), I made it back to my uncle’s house in Superior. When I walked in the house, I was greeted with a symphony of all the noise makers my mom and Jaden had collected at the expo. It was awesome! I had my own little Congratulatory celebration!
After doing some math, I realized that since the 2012 Oshkosh Half Marathon (a then-PR time of 2:11:15), I have taken 18:27 off of my half marathon time. I can hardly believe that. It is crazy to think about.
We enjoyed part of the day in Superior and then headed back home. But we did manage to find a Cherry Berry in Eau Claire for a post-race treat!
*Flat course. Love getting a new PR.
*Great volunteers. Each aid station was adequately staffed. There was always plenty of water and there were tables set up on both sides of the road to ease the crowding.
*Nice shirt. I am glad any time I get something other that a white shirt. I like the logo on this one. And I like that there is a logo on the back, too; not just a bunch of sponsors.(this was taken the next day when we went to a diary breakfast with my dad)
*Nice medal. I should just wear a sign around my neck that says “will race for bling.”
*Crowd support. Even though the first part of the course was pretty much devoid of fans, they certainly made up for it at the end. The last two miles, as we entered downtown and ran toward the park, were full of spectators and they were really supportive.
*Having to get up at such a ridiculous hour to run a race. This event would be a shoo-in for me in the future if it was an 8:00 start time.
*The expo. They really need to consider a bigger venue for the future. There are so many vendors (really great vendors), but it is so crowded that I mentally checked out. I had to get out of the crowds, even though there were more things I wanted to look at.
*Post race food set up. The variety and amount of food offered was great. Having to double back and weave around to get it was not.
*The weather. I know it isn’t their fault, but it still kinda sucked. Great temps, but no opportunity to check out the advertised views.
Overall Grade: B+
I would actually give the race and A, and the Expo/post-race-crowding/super-early-start time a B-, but I think it averages out. It is hard for me to look past the PR!