This Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of the last time I ran Grandmas marathon in Two Harbors, MN at age 23. It was my second marathon. Leading up to the race in 1999, my childhood idol and older brother Mike was my coach. My verbalized goal for four training months was to break the amateur runner’s sacred 3:00 hour mark. The training details are foggy now, but I always did what Mike told me to do—jumping off a cliff included.
The evening before the race, I have a vivid memory of walking out of Duluth’s convention center after ‘packet pick-up’ and breaking some bad news to Mike. My own self-imposed pressure was mounting to uncomfortable and self-doubting levels, and stated, “Mike, I don’t think I am going to try to break 3 hours. I just want to run free, enjoy it, and just have a good experience.” In that moment, I felt like I was letting him down as a coach and worse, as an older brother for whom I admired for his running prowess. I anticipated the pain and preoccupation that it would take to run under 3 hours. I feared the possibility of failure as my time goal was too much pressure for my inexperienced runner self. My dodging proclamation and immediate understanding from Mike enabled me to get into a less intimidating, pre-race mindset—enjoyment.
As an All-American and 2:32 Boston marathoner, our original plan was that Mike was going to pace his younger sister for the first 10 miles. At that time, he would drop out of the race and meet me at the finish line. The gun sounded, and we were running south along Lake Superior with a one way, 26.2 mile trip into downtown Duluth on a cool, overcast day. Instead of keeping me on 3hr pace (6:50/mi) and pestering me to stay disciplined each mile, Mike stayed completely silent as we ran side by side and he allowed me run to my own comfort.
At mile 10-11, Mike kept looking down at his simple Timex watch. I could see he was doing nerdy finish time calculations in his impressive nerdy runner head. He noticed my breathing wasn’t labored, and I was happy, smooth, and conversational. Shortly after 10 miles, he couldn’t hold in the news.
“Ruth, do you realize that even if you slow down by 5 seconds per mile, that you will qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials?” Back then, I was a soccer player who ran—not a runner—so his words meant nothing to me. I nodded politely, and ignored his supposed exciting information.
Several miles later, he piped up again, “Ruth, do you realize that you just passed one of the best Minnesota runners?” I was oblivious to who the MN runner was, what that meant, so again, I ignored him, and kept running. At one point, Mike, who was well informed about my pacing and the significance of my even splits (6:25/mi), decided to keep running with his sister to the finish line despite not being in marathon shape. Mile by mile, Mike encouraged me, but let me run quietly. He told me that I looked great and to stay strong and relaxed as we ran side by side and the late race effort became more difficult. Together, we crossed Grandmas finish line with an Olympic Trials qualifying time of 2:48:20 (OT standard then was 2:50), smashing 3 hours. Our official finish line photo looks like this: Mike’s face is streaming with tears, smiling up at the finishing camera, and his sister’s face is still oblivious, yet totally exhausted.
This 1999 Grandmas marathon race and shared experience with Mike is one that we will never forget. I love this story.
The lesson in this story is a critical one and one I will take with me into Saturday’s race. Getting too caught up in a time is dangerous if you forget why you run. A strong unwavering purpose and deeply healthy mindset is everything. This Saturday, my enjoyment approach will certainly be the same, but this time, I am well equipped to simultaneously keep my strict 2:45 goal time in mind.
Similar to 1999, my 2019 ultimate goal is to enjoy the experience, to have fun, and embrace every moment of running as I run alongside 90 fast US female elite runners who are in pursuit of the same OT qualifying time. Twenty of those elite runners are 40 years old or older. It makes me giddy every time I think it and I’m in total awe about how far women’s distance running has come in 20 years. Friends who don’t know the sport…I am quite slow compared to the speedy women at the front! This is my own race.
Twenty years of lessons later, I don’t fear failure. I love the fight. I am not scared of declaring a goal time. I am grittier, more determined and self-confident. I can tolerate discomfort better, and oddly, I seem to enjoy it. Lastly, and most importantly, my ego or sport identity is not on the line so I will run smart but be fearless. Results don’t drive me. The pursuit of results drives me. The joy is in the character is takes to show up and try.
At age 43, I have more creaky morning joints, more training aches, more recovery needs, but overriding these aging changes are new massive strengths and performance enhancing perspectives gained from my professional triathlon career, own coaching experiences, and plain old maturity. Running a qualifying marathon time at 6:17/mi pace WILL be extremely challenging. My training fitness indicates that I’m hovering around the OT qualifying time on paper so I am inviting any environmental assistance (e.g. cool temps & tailwind!) that Mother Nature can provide. I will be pursuing it with gusto from the start.
Also, of personal significance, this weekend is special as it also marks the 26th anniversary of my mother’s death after complications of the debilitating disease of multiple sclerosis. Perseverance was in her blood. She was 46. My mother’s image, laugh, memory, and stubborn nature are bound to show up in my thoughts on race day. I miss that lady dearly.
Now for some fun 20 year comparisons in a “self to self” interview!!
|Grandmas Marathon and best half-marathon||1999||2000 Olympic Trials||Best Ironman Marathon & half-ironman run 2016/17||2019|
|Marathon Finishing time||2:48:20; 1:18:49||2:48:17, 1:19||2:57:49, 1:18:04||We will see!|
|What recovery tools did you use?||Recovery tool? What do you mean? I’m 23.||Recovery tool? What do you mean? I’m 23.||The Stick, Active PT, mobility sessions||Lacrosse ball, self-massage, foam roller, weekly Active PT mobility sessions|
|What was your weight and body fat?||125lbs, 14%||112lbs, 11%||118lbs, 9%||118lbs. Current body fat unknown. I eat a lot and eat well.|
|Highest run mileage/week and long run.||60-65mpw, 22 miles||100mpw, 23 miles||40mpw, 18 miles||75mpw, 22 miles|
|a) Injuries? b) What did you do about it?||a) Tight calves b) Runner’s stretch when I thought about it.||a) Achilles tendonitis, calcaneal bursitis, plantar fasciitisb) Decreased mileage, H20 ran. Cross trained for 5 weeks before the OT race. Afterwards, ran through it, which majorly failed.||a) Bike crash (elbow), periodic hamstring irritation b) Rest, self-massage, cross train, Active PT||a) Short lived right knee bursitis, basic muscle tightness.b) Active PT treatment every week to stay on top of tightness. Reduced mileage for very short time (1.5 weeks).|
|Nutrition/diet preoccupation||Food fears. Nothing clinical, but preoccupied with weight.||Overly concerned about weight and appearance next to other very small female runners. No serious issues but not super healthy mindset.||Healthy relationship with food. Against food restriction, eat for recovery & performance.||Healthy relationship with food. Against food restriction, eat for recovery & performance.|
|Race Apparel and Running Apparel||Runner’s Edge||Runner’s Edge||Terraloco (7th supported year!)||Terraloco (7th supported year!)|
|Strength training integration?||Nah. College soccer is done!||Nah, don’t I want to get smaller?||YES! Consistently 1-2x week||YES! Consistently 1-2x week, closely working with Active PT|
Words cannot express the gratitude I feel from consistent LOCAL LOVE from TerraLoco MN, Active PT, family, coach, and friends who have accompanied me throughout my professional triathlon career, and now in my pursuit of the marathon. Thank you for your kindness, your support, and your friendship. Looking forward to sharing the course with so many Rochester runners. See you at the finish line and we will celebrate our best selves tomorrow!