Warning - This is a little long so grab your beverage of choice, sit back, and enjoy.
You couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day to run a marathon. The temperatures were in the mid-40s at the start and mid-50s by the time I finished. The sky was blue and the sun was out the whole time but 75 percent of the course was on tree lined bike paths along the Grand River.
I was up at 5:30 am, made a mini-pot of really bad coffee. My parents don’t drink coffee but still have the little mini-coffee maker I had in college. I had all of my stuff laid out so it was ready to go and I wouldn’t forget anything. I ended up wearing my running tights because I hate having really cold legs. In the end, I could have gotten away with them, but I wasn’t uncomfortable with them.
We woke Kate up because she wanted to hang with Steve and watch me run and we were out the door by 6:30 am. After a quick stop at Starbucks for coffee and hot chocolate for my support team, we arrived at the YMCA about 7:05 am and stayed warm in the car while I ate my brown sugar pop-tarts, my trusty pre-race meal.
The best part of the pre-race was that the YMCA was open, had clean bathrooms, and was warm. Kate and I hoped in line, found Steve, stood around for a couple of minutes and then hopped in line again. The second time the line for the bathroom was a bit longer as we were about 25 minutes away from the start.
About 7:45, I followed the stream of people around the block toward the starting line and found the general location of the pace group. I never heard the national anthem, but I did hear the race director, Don Kern, sing the Canadian national anthem because there were almost 150 Canadians registered to run.
You know, I don’t think I heard the gun go off either, but no matter, everyone started cheering and moving toward the start line. It took maybe two minutes to get there.
Just after the starting line, a lady next to me saw by pacing bib and started talking. Her name was Amanda and it was her first marathon. It sounded like we had similar goals and we were both used to running with the iPod or other people, so we decided to run together. It was great! We chatted, kept each other going, and pushed each other to the end.
We were on the streets for a bit, passing some big old warehouses and then made our way onto a wide trail through Butterworth Park and then back onto the roads. There were some hills between mile 3 and mile 8. Amanda had done a training run on most of the course so she was able to give me a heads up of what was coming. Compared to the hills around the lake, these weren’t bad at all and the first one was the worst.
When we started, we were a good distance behind the 4:14 pace group but Amanda and I had decided that we would work on catching them and then if we could stay ahead of them, we’d be good. I think we caught them around mile 6, stayed with them for a little bit and then took off.
The course then took us around Millennium Park, which was beautiful. We were on fairly narrow walkways but by that time, the runners were thinning out a little bit. We wound around a lot and at one point, I commented that we looked like we were in line for a ride at DisneyWorld. On the way out of the park, a spectator yelled out “Way to work together girls!” I thought about it and over the course of the race we really did do that.
Around mile 7, I saw Steve and Kate cheering me on. I got the first goodie bag of the day – half a Tropical Smoothie PowerBar. I started eating it right away and found out that they are really hard when they are cold. Oh well, my teeth stayed intact and it hit the spot.
The course headed onto fairly wide bike trails and wound around next to the Grand River. The trails were tree covered so we stayed pretty cool and protected from the wind. The section was an out and back so we saw plenty of people in front of us. Amanda saw several people from her training group so there were a bunch of shouts of encouragement.
There were a lot of people pushing strollers/chariots on the course (we got passed by one man with two kids!). There is a program in Michigan called Ride of Their Lives that give disable children the opportunity to compete in marathons and triathalons.
There was also a guy who was trying to beat the world record for completing a marathon on stilts. (He's in this picture)
I saw Steve and Kate again around mile 12 and 14 and got another half of a PowerBar. This time I held it for a while to soften it up. Much better eating.
Miles 17 and 18 wound through and industrial park in Grandville. There was some wind but not too bad. There was also a port-a-potty without a line. I told Amanda I would catch up with her and sprinted to the facility. I was able to catch up with her about a mile later. We saw Kate and Steve again and we headed back onto the bike path.
When we hit 20 miles, Amanda commented that this was now uncharted territory but we kept reminding each other we only had a short daily run left. We kept moving along, occasionally checking the Garmin for our pace, which would fluctuate between 9:20 and 8:30 per mile. We found we usually picked up the speed just after an aid station. We would slow down a bit, grab water and Gatorade and walk while we drank. It worked pretty well. With the PowerBar pick-me-ups, I felt like I had plenty of energy throughout the race.
There were a lot of signs along the route but at Mile 21, we saw one of the best “Your feet hurt because your kickin’ so much ass!” We both laughed and thanked them. The feet were hurting and so were my knees. The seam on my left sock was rubbing at the base of my big toe. Amanda’s hamstring was bothering her. Neither of us wanted to stop to adjust/stretch. We just kept going.
Zoomy had some fantastic signs, too, I just didn't see them. I wish I had because I really appreciate her humor!
Mile 23 had us running alongside the freeway. At one point, we saw a group of spectators who left their car on the side of the highway and climbed down the embankment to cheer us all on. We went under the highway, hit one more aid station with booming music and the course opened up back through Butterworth Park.
Amanda and I kept checking on each other to see how we were holding up and other than some soreness, we were doing okay. At mile 25 a man passed us and commented that we were looking good and if we kept up this pace, we’d finish in just over four hours. I commented that it was what we were going for. Then we kind of looked at each other and realized that was the first time we had been passed since mile 18.
At 24.5, I think I asked if we were ready to hit it. Amanda said go for it and that she would be right behind me. I’m not sure if I got too far ahead of her at one point but as we made the last turn with about ¾ of a mile to go, I hear, “I’m right behind you, Karen.” At this point, I was starting to question whether I was going to make it. Amanda took the lead and I pushed to keep up with her.
Kate and Steve were about two blocks away and he yelled, leave nothing in the tank. I kept repeating that as I tried to keep myself calm and push down the desire to stop and walk for a minute.
At 26 miles, Amanda looked over and asked, “Are we going to finish this together?” I said, “Let’s go!” and we went as hard as we could into the finish line.
Don Kern was waiting there, greeting all the runners. Amanda and I each shook one of his hands and then with words of thanks, gave each other a hug.
We finished the Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon in 4:04:04!!!