Everybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty …
Show me how big your brave is
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
These are the words that I hear as I reach mile 7 of this past weekend’s Marquette Marathon, my first 26.2 in the Upper Peninsula. I can’t help smiling when I hear Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” in part because I could really use the reminder to stay strong—already, not even halfway through this race—and because it brings to mind my sole sisters Krista and Cassy who aren’t at the race but have provided endless support and encouragement throughout my training. It was Krista who burned a CD with a marathon playlist back in the spring for the Bayshore, and it included this uplifting tune. I don’t start this race listening to music—I find I like to soak up my surroundings and get into a groove for a couple of miles at least—but around mile 5, when the course begins its climb to the elevation high point, I opt for some go-get-‘em music.
Did it worry me I needed a push with this particular song so early on? Yes, it did. It pretty much sums up how I felt throughout this race: not at my best. Another way to describe it: my body and mind couldn’t seem to sync up.
But I also was determined to not let my attitude about struggling earlier than expected drastically change how I ran overall. I didn’t want the mental monkeys to take over. I just realized—hoped, really—that my mindset would shift and adapt as needed. That’s the thing about a race, and I’d say in particular the marathon—you just don’t know what’s going to happen exactly. You can train well, you can plan and hope for the very best…and things happen. I decided early on that the trick would be to handle any unexpected thing or feeling or whatever with as much grace and control as I could. Easier said than done, I realize, but I think I accomplished this.
But I am way ahead of myself here. Let’s go back a bit, to our arrival in Marquette Friday, the night before the race. The low-down on pre-race prep:
Race Expo: Because we got a later start than planned, we didn’t arrive in Marquette until about 8:30 p.m. Friends arrived earlier though, and to be safe, we had them pick up our packets (they were able to do this with a copy of our online registration confirmation). The Expo went until 9 p.m., at the Marquette Commons downtown, so we stopped quick as they were packing things up to talk with one of the friendly volunteers about catching a bus in the morning to Presque Isle, where both the half and full marathon started. Had we arrived earlier we would have experienced live music and vendor booths; it definitely looked like it had been a lively scene. Also, race organizers held the inaugural Blackrocks 5K at 7:30 p.m. I think this would have been a great event for our kids had we been able to get to town earlier. And we could have kept their commemorative pint glasses.
Accommodations: We stayed in a relatively cheap motel just west of the city. We traveled to the U.P. with close friends and their two kids, and we were looking for fairly cheap accommodations the night before the race. We’d initially thought of camping, but nixed that idea after realizing we’d be coming off three weekends of tent camping, and sleeping in a hotel bed surely would be better than the ground considering the distances we were running (Joe ran the half marathon with our friend Rob). The motel was nothing to write home about, and in fact wasn’t all that nice (which is why I’m not mentioning it by name here; I don’t feel it would be fair to give a review of the place since we weren’t there long at all). Still, we had two rooms next to each other, the kids played in the indoor pool after we’d arrived and had eaten dinner downtown, and it worked fine for one night. If we run this race again, we’d look for a better spot.
Pre-race eating: We met up with our friends and another couple also in town for the race for a late dinner at The Wild Rover, an Irish pub. We were able to walk there from our parking spot at the Marquette Commons. I was hungry, but didn’t want anything too heavy. I felt I’d been fueling fairly well all week long leading up to the race. I settled on The Deadly Wedge, which included grilled romaine hearts, crushed almonds, aged cheddar, cherry tomatoes, all topped with grilled chicken. It was delicious and felt like just enough. Joe opted for the vegetarian burger Molly Maguire, a house black bean patty, English cucumber, red onion, bibb lettuce, tomato and pickles on a pretzel bun with fresh tzatziki.
Race Morning: We got up around 5:30 a.m. to get ready and catch a quick breakfast at the nearby McDonald’s (oatmeal for Joe and me, pancakes for Rob) before heading to “The Dome” to catch one of the buses running from 6:30 to 8 a.m. Parking also was available on the “island” itself, though we thought taking a bus would be easy enough. And it was. Presque Isle, by the way, is not exactly an island as it has a road connecting it to the mainland, but locals refer to is as “the island.” It’s a 323-acre forested oval shaped headland/peninsula which juts into Lake Superior in the northern tip of the city. Very scenic.
We had just enough time at the race start to snap a few photos, use the restrooms (there were plenty for this race with its 800 runners total). The marathon started at 7:30 a.m., the half at 8 a.m. It was fun being at the race start with Joe, knowing he, too, would be racing. This was his first half marathon, and he was feeling pretty good. His plan was to take it nice and easy, and to hopefully break 2:45. Me, I thought it would be great to go under 4 hours given my recovering sprained ankle (and yes, secretly thought it would be absolutely wonderful if I could somehow bust out a BQ, which would mean under 3:40). Mostly, though, I wanted a strong race. I just didn’t know what that would look like.
A moment of silence …. And then we were off. At the start line we paused for five seconds of silence to honor Boston. Then, after a “Ready, Set, Go” from the race director, we began. I tried to loosen myself up, not go out to fast, during these first several miles. We headed south on a quarter mile of flat road before turning onto a bike path and leaving Presque Isle Park. We passed the upper harbor ore dock, a still-active 75-foot high dock used to load iron ore onto freighters, before taking a right and heading inland, first on a bike path and then a mile of gravel road along an old railroad grade.
Feeling OK. I wasn’t quite sure of my pace—my Garmin wasn’t set the way I normally have it and it wasn’t telling me my pace each mile—but I was feeling pretty strong. I calculated in my head that I was running about 8:30 overall, with a couple of miles dipping below that. Running through Tourist Park, a popular campground, and then heading up an oh-so-slight-but-noticeable incline to the course’s highest point, I maintained my pace. At this point we were following an abandoned railroad grade that is now a paved bike path. The weather also helped: overcast, even a bit drizzly at times, high 50s/low 60s in these early miles.
And then not as strong… From miles 6.5 to 11.5, as I ran along Lake Superior, I felt awe at the beauty of the water to my left and later my right, as the course includes a mile out-and-back dogleg along Founders Landing, the landing point of Marquette’s founding fathers. But I also felt heavy, like my legs didn’t want to go as fast as I wanted them to. Interestingly enough, my left ankle, the one that had rolled during last month’s 25K trail run at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, didn’t bother me at all. Aside from a few twinges in my lower left leg early on in the race, that side of me felt just fine. My right side felt OK, too, but just overall my body seemed … tired. It didn’t make sense to me: I’d been training—on hilly trails nonetheless—all summer long. Where was my endurance? I started thinking the half marathon distance sounded pretty nice. I couldn’t help thinking about how I’d be doing this entire first half of the race all over again since the marathon course involves doing two loops. I’m certain this thinking didn’t help my overall weary state.
The halfway point—and beyond. I wondered about Joe and Rob and Chris, our other friend running the half, and how they were doing. I also wondered about my kids, where they might be. Gloria, Rob’s wife, and our friend Heather, were heroically taking care of five kids, going to different points along the course to cheer on runners. I figured I’d see them at the halfway point, at the half marathon finish where we started, and I couldn’t wait to see them. I will say that this point of the race was very scenic. At mile 8.5 you run past the Marquette lighthouse, constructed in 1853, and running Presque Isle (including a quick 80-foot climb into old growth forest) was serene.
Throughout the first half I fueled every 5K with Gu (chomps and packets), and timed these so that I took them in just before cruising through the aid stations, slowing down just a bit to ask the friendly volunteers for water. Fuel wasn’t a problem at least. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was slowing down, and I realized it wasn’t looking good for a qualifying time. I’d need to ramp up my speed, and I just couldn’t see myself doing this. I let this thought sink in for a few minutes. OK, so I am not going to qualify. Now what? This race will still go on. What am I going to do about this race…how am I going to remember this race? I had told myself after all that a sub-4:00 would be great. And even more than that, finishing feeling good would be just fine. I took another few minutes to process this.
Just keep going. The only option was to finish. I wouldn’t stop. I wouldn’t not finish. Right? Funny how that thought can creep in, if only for a moment. I received a huge boost when I saw my kids just past the halfway point. I thought I’d missed them, but just as I was about to leave the island and continue on for my second loop, they came running up alongside of me. I felt relief as I stopped and told them I wanted to take a picture of all of us. “No, Mom, don’t stop, you can’t stop now!” Andrew and Emma, my oldest two, said. “It’s OK, I’m OK with stopping. Let’s take a picture.” It’s a strange feeling for me to stop during a race, especially one I’ve been training hard for, but again I was reminded that my mindset had begun to shift.
I kept going and within the next mile or so came up to Chris and Rob, both who were on their final miles of the half. High-fiving Rob and hearing a “way to stick in there” from Chris gave me a much-needed jolt of confidence. I asked Rob where Joe was and he said he was right behind him. I didn’t cross paths with him, so when I came up to the next aid station, I stopped to drink some water and look for him. I wanted to give him a quick hug, or at least a high-five, but he didn’t come. I was moving around from side to side—my toes were cramping up—and I am sure the volunteers nearby wondered why in the heck a marathoner had stopped and was scanning the road ahead for a runner, but I didn’t care. After a few minutes, though, I figured I must have missed him (I did), and I kept going.
The next several miles went by in a blur. I still felt heavy in the legs (and heart, to be honest), but I got into a rhythm and fell into step with several of the same runners for a while. I did end up stopping again, because of slight cramping in my toes and calf muscles. I walked through it, and while doing this I did something I’ve never done before: I sent a quick couple of texts to Joe, asking how he was doing. I feel kind of funny admitting I was texting during a marathon, but I want to be honest. It felt good to walk, and it was a great boost to hear back from Joe. He finished well under his goal—he had a time of 2:22! He encouraged me to keep going. I needed to hear this.
End-of-race highlights: Along the Lake Superior stretch for the second time, I came upon a woman in full Army fatigues, carrying a large backpack and holding an American flag. This buoyed me, seeing her run slow but steady. I felt proud, and as I passed her on her left, I turned and thanked her. She smiled back at me. As I neared the upper harbor ore dock, I realized I was close to the end. I pictured finishing, seeing my family and receiving the finisher’s medal. I couldn’t wait to be there. The final mile around Presque Isle felt long, especially the steep and short hill that I decided to walk this time around. But I picked up my pace and followed the path. Just before coming upon an open vista of Lake Superior to my right, I caught a glimpse of red out of the corner of my left eye. It’s a red sweatshirt, worn by my 11-year-old, Andrew. He’s come out onto the course, that final half mile, to run in with me. I couldn’t hold back the tears stinging my eyes behind my sunglasses. “Mom!” he shouted to me. I ran toward him, hugging him hard. “You’re almost done, Mom. You can do this.” We ran together around the bend and down a hill. “This is so hard,” I tell him. My mind is mushy. I’m also high on having him beside me. “Let’s just finish strong,” he tells me. And so we did. Side by side, we ran toward the finish chute. My other two kids, Emma and Alex, and Rob and Gloria’s son Gage all ran out to greet me just before the finish. They ran a few steps with me before going to the side so I could run through the finish. I was beyond spent, and I stumbled forward, wanting to find a spot to stretch but afraid to stop completely for fear of cramping. Joe is there, as is Rob, and they handed me water and bananas. I’m elated to have finished, even if my time—4:33—is so much slower than my 3:41 marathon finish just three months earlier.
Post-race fun: We hung around the finish for awhile, and Rob and Joe decided to have a burger from the post-race barbecue underway. We later headed downtown, catching one of the free shuttle buses back to our vehicles on the mainland, and savor lunch at The Vierling Restaurant & Marquette Harbor Brewery. This historic spot—it’s one of Michigan’s first brew pubs—has been a focal point in downtown for more than 100 years. Joe and I try their craft beer sampler—their beers are delicious—and I order one of their specials, a Cajun salmon burger. It’s on the spicy side, but so good. Who is to know what your body is going to end up craving after a marathon? Afterwards, we decided to check out Ore Dock Brewing Company, a short walk away. It’s a great, airy space, and the beer is good. I savor one pint of Devils Note, a red ale.
Later we head to the Marquette Visitor’s Center, where there’s a long stretch of beach, and we dove in. Refreshingly cold.
I’m still processing this race, and I am unsure what’s next for me. Do I try to qualify for Boston again, once I enter the next age bracket maybe? Hey, that’s sounding good, and the big 4-0 is next year…the thought of forgetting about speed and instead focusing on endurance—triathlons, ultras—also has crossed my mind lately. But I’ve got time, and I need to recover. In body and in mind.