Race: Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon
Place: Wayzata, Minnesota to Excelsior, Minnesota
Date: May 5, 2013
I love to run in Minnesota. I feel so connected to the sport there. I am certain a lot of that stems from the fact that it is where my grandpa lives and where he did a lot of his running. That being said, I had been anticipating running in the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon since my grandpa mentioned it last summer and told me what a great race it was.
I signed up for it ages ago and took to training for it immediately following the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I had a great schedule for it, as it gave me just over two months to work my mileage back up and do so safely and steadily. No injuries. Not part of the program.
That being said, May got here sooner than I anticipated. My training runs were getting better and better. Faster even. Which I made every attempt at slowing them down with little success. But I did try. Before I knew it, I was packing my suitcase with every combination of running clothes I could think of. Previously in the week, Minnesota was snowed on. Yes. In May. The weather report was calling for cold weather on Sunday morning…with a good chance of rain. So two pairs of running shoes were also packed. I hated not knowing how to dress for this race. All I knew was that I was leaving 80 degree weather in Louisville, Kentucky and heading into low 30s up in Minnesota. I was not a happy runner girl. More than half my suitcase was taken up by my running gear (2 pairs of shoes, my portable foam roller, running jacket, running pants, running shorts, running shirts (long and short sleeve), BondiBands, hair extensions, fuel belt, GU, Sports Beans…). I still had to fit in clothes for every day wear…not to mention pajamas (warm and cooler weather ones, as by Monday & Tuesday the weather was going to be in the 70s…crazy Minnesota weather!), my toiletry bag, my gluten-free breadcrumbs for the dinner I was going to make for my aunt and grandpa, a hoodie, AND a fleece jacket, among other essentials. Packing stresses me out to no end, and the fact that my luggage was already stuffed just with half of what I needed to bring was really getting me worked up. I managed to get it all in there and told myself I couldn’t purchase anything unnecessary while in Minnesota (HA!!).
With my luggage packed, my roommate and I set off to work all day before leaving at normal time and heading to the airport immediately following work. We didn’t plan ahead for our dinner that night, realizing our original plan wasn’t going to work out time-wise. So, we parked at the airport, checked our bags, flew through security and found our gate. Then…we had to seek out something to eat. For Cathy, this is as simple as picking one of the few restaurants that dot our small airport in Louisville. She chose Quiznos and opted for some chips and a large Broccoli and Cheese Soup. Food for me is not as easy and I ended up cobbling together a combination of a fruit cup from a vendor and then Cathy and I split a bag of popcorn and a Caramel Milky Way. Eating gluten-free at the airport in Louisville is a task, and I refused to pay $3.69 for a KIND Bar. HELL NO!
We dined and settled in until our plane began to board. No rush…assigned seats as we were flying Delta. The flight was small, and very easy. I settled in my window seat and took out my book (Hal Higdon’s Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, in case you were wondering) and began to absorb every word. The two hour flight seemed to go by so quickly. I had a Diet Coke along the way for an added boost of caffeine. But I still felt tired when the plane settled on the runway in Minneapolis. It was cold and wet. I could tell that much. Cathy and I disembarked and made the long trek to Baggage Claim. Our luggage was there and we easily pulled our bags off the belt and immediately opened them up to pull out our hoodies and fleece. I wasn’t stepping out into wet 30 degree weather in Minnesota until I was in warmer attire.
I texted my aunt who said she and my cousin, Natalie, would meet us at Arrivals in the Delta area. Perfect. Cathy and I stepped outside…under Air Canada…and quickly walked up toward the Delta sign. We didn’t see my Aunt’s Corolla, so we sort of stood around, bounced to keep warm, and kept a sharp eye. Apparently there were two Delta signs and she was just up the way. Natalie spotted us and came and got us, directing us along that path. Perfect. Hugs were given, luggage was placed in the trunk, and we were off to grab some groceries and then some drinks before calling it a night. Gluten-free groceries were grabbed, then we went to settle in, catch-up, and talk over drinks and snacks at a local restaurant. I ended up ordering their gluten-free spaghetti, which Cathy helped me consume. And my drink was a modified version of their Pomegranate Lemonade…mine made with a gluten-free vodka. I appreciated that. We got caught up, talked a lot about traveling and the race, then headed back to my grandpa’s home where Natalie bid us adieu (she’d be working the rest of the time I was in town) and Cathy, Jan and I got our stuff put into the guest room and went to retrieve the airbed for Cathy and some sheets for my bed.
Sleep came easily for me, but Cathy had a fitful rest. We were up at 7:30 a.m. the following morning to eat breakfast and get ready to head to Wayzata Middle School to pick up my race packet for Sunday’s race. It was another cold and wet day in Minneapolis…so the hoodie and fleece made yet another appearance. My Aunt Jan drove us out to the expo, where parking wasn’t too hard to get. The issue was walking from the car to the doors leading into the school. Why? Because it was flippin’ cold, that’s why! But we braved the damp, cold elements and hurried inside. Jan rushed to get the door from a man who was holding it for us and he said, “Don’t rush. Save your legs for tomorrow.” I love runners!
The expo was teeny-tiny, but something told me this race was as well. You can usually judge the size of a race by the size of its expo and the number of people and businesses that are there or represented. Very few here. In fact, the packet pick-up was held in this tiny room that looked to be the school’s cafeteria. And I thought my small town had a small school. It was at least triple the size of this one. There were a few vendors and local businesses (chiropractors, orthopedic doctors, running store) present, but not much else. There was actually a line for the spread of numbers my bib was located in, so I went to stand in line. While I was doing that, Cathy went to meander over to the tables and see what was there. When I got my race bag (Bib #1493) and t-shirt, I turned around and there was Cathy holding these amazing signs she made while I waited in line. Yes…two signs. Which just shoes how long I had to wait.
I went to the area that was set up to make sure the timing chip was functioning. I waved my bib over the sensor and my name came up on the laptop. Good enough. We were set to go. We had a few errands to run, and then we grabbed a light bite to eat at Pinstripes in Edina. Then…we made our way back to my grandpa’s house. Here is when my bestie since third grade, Heather (who was at my first half marathon in Chicago in 2011, and cheered me on through the Minneapolis Half Marathon last year) came over. We sat around and talked about anything and everything for awhile, swapping stories with grandpa and Jan. Then, we flipped on the television and watched the running of the Kentucky Derby (I got out of Louisville once again for that, YES!) before getting up and piling into two vehicles to head to the chosen place for gluten-free pizza, joining up with two of my cousins and their families/significant others.
One of the worst gluten-free pizzas I ever had…so anyone near a Pizza Ranch…don’t go there! Find somewhere with good pizza. With the less-than-satisfactory pizza consumed…we all said goodbye and went our separate ways for the evening. A very early wake-up call was scheduled for the following morning as the race started at 8 a.m. and parking was rather limited.
Morning came really early for me. I was awake at about 4:40 a.m…but really earlier. I just lazed in bed until my alarm on my phone went off. With only one alarm set, I didn’t want to miss it. Cathy continued to sleep, but I gathered up my race clothes and headed into the bathroom to change. I set down my clothes and went into the kitchen to get out my gluten-free bagel, put it on a pan, and get that in a preheating oven to toast while I changed. I managed to get into my race gear and get my hair extensions in and pigtails pulled up just in time to step into the kitchen and save my bagel from being overdone. I was doing something new here. I normally had only cereal before a race…then ate my banana about 40 minutes before start time. But, it was cold outside so I’d burn through food faster. It was also 3 hours before the race, so my body had time to digest and I wanted to see if a little extra carbs in the morning made any difference. This was a huge risk, being that if my stomach didn’t like running with a bagel in it…I wouldn’t know until I was out on the course. I gave it a very thin layer of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese and then settled in to look at Facebook and eat. Once the bagel was consumed, I went to wake up my roommate at her requested 5:30 a.m. She shuffled into the bathroom, and I set to getting her breakfast prepared.
And then…the big snafu of the morning occurred. And I wasn’t sure at the time if it was a good or bad omen. But…it was a mess.
Basically, through doing nothing but flushing a toilet before even using it, Cathy set off a stream of malfunctions that morning. And it started with the toilet overflowing. I had no idea this was happening, but my aunt came hurdling up the stairs and pounded on my grandpa’s door, telling him that there was a water leak in the utility room. He got out of bed and went downstairs with her, and soon Cathy came out of the bathroom and said that the toilet had overflowed. I put two and two together and hurried downstairs to relay this to my aunt. Water was literally pouring out of pipes, all over antique pictures and some clothing that were there in the utility room. My grandpa was moving things as fast as he could.
That being said, I went back upstairs and helped Cathy clean up the bathroom. Jan told us to finish getting ready, so Cathy ate her breakfast and packed up her bag. I had her pin me up and I slipped my pajama pants over my running skirt (I wasn’t sure how to dress for this race, but I figured I’d warm up so…running skirt, compression socks, arm warmers, short sleeve shirt, BondiBand) and put on my hoodie and fleece jacket. We all needed to use the bathroom still, so we decided an impromptu stop at Caribou Coffee would do. My aunt poured her oatmeal into a cup and we took off. We rotated through the bathroom at Caribou while our drinks were being made. I kept my simple…a coffee with a splash of soy milk. We got them to go, and soon we were off making the 35 minute drive to Wayzata, Minnesota and the start of the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon.
We ended up parking at Wells Fargo in Wayzata and trekking down the hill toward the start line. While we were on our way past the line-up of port-a-potties, my grandpa called to say he fixed the problem in the bathroom, had disinfected the floor, and was now going back to bed. My grandpa is going to be 92 years old this year and he is still sharp as a whip. Love him. With that little bit of relief, we decided to get my legs warmed up by walking up the street and over to the docks of Lake Minnetonka. So, that’s what I did…in the very cold wind…with my aunt and my Aunt Jan. We took a few pictures on the docks and wandered a little more up, then turned around to head back toward the start line. I noticed a bunch of runners ducking into Starbucks, so I figured I could go use the bathroom there and Jan was thinking of getting a hot chocolate. So, we went in. And I ended up in the bathroom line of doooooooooom! But, I stayed there. Cathy helped a runner pin her race number on…properly because she wanted it on her back originally. And the line slowly made its way toward the bathroom doors. Heather texted while I was standing in line to say she was in the area and I told her we were in Starbucks. She must have found us. Cathy came up the line at 10 minutes to the race to give me the warning. I didn’t have to pee, I was just going to with a flushing toilet…so I said, “Screw this!” and got out of line, joining Cathy, Heather and Jan at the table. I decided it was time to suck it up cupcake and lose the pajama pants and the jackets…so I stripped out of them in Starbucks, now in only my running clothes…and we stepped outside.
But…the best thing to do is get acclimated, right? Right. Or that’s what I told myself as I huddled with Heather and Cathy for pictures in front of the start line. Heather actually told me that we weren’t supposed to be at the start line yet. She spotted the pace groups around the corner and that was where we needed to head. So, that’s what we did…crossing the road and heading into the fray of runners lining the side street. I chose a pace group the day before…being, what I told Cathy the night before, very overly ambitious with my half marathon pace…but understanding if I needed to drop off from that pace, I would. My pacers were Rick and Kevin, two very talkative and amazing guys who did a great job on Sunday morning. And my pace group was the 7:38/mile pace group…or the 1:40:00 finish time.
That would require me to shave a full 5 minutes off my half marathon PR from the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I told you…I was being overly ambitious on this one. I had that thought in my head as I lined up. And Heather stepped into the street with me, looked at the sign and back at me and said, “Karen…this is a fast pace for a half marathon.” I nodded. “I know.” We hugged. Cathy snapped a picture of me in front of the pacers. We hugged. I ran over to Jan and hugged her…and then I got in line. And shivered with the rest of the runners who were dressed more like it was summer than 30-some degrees out.
After a few minutes, we were marched down the street and around the corner toward the starting gate. I hit the button on my Garmin so that it could seek out satellites…and it managed after a few moments. I noted that it was just a little past 8:00 a.m. We were starting late. Uh oh. Not another omen of some sort. We were, indeed, starting late. The pace car wasn’t up where it needed to be, so they had to go find it. Go figure. So, we all sort of huddled there at the start until we suddenly…we were off.
I moved with the pace group toward the start line…and then…we joined the throng of runners now making their way down Lake Street. As with most races, the start area is very crowded, so your pace starts out easier. This is actually a good thing. For me. I tend to fly out of that start line. But this was good. This reined me in. I was about 2 feet behind my pacers, and it was like that up until about half a mile when I was right up next to them.
They start you off on a high note…in that you are running flat for a little distance and then…BOOM…you get the steepest hill and climb in the race. At least you get it over with early. So, I decided to power up that hill and find my pace on the other side. In most cases what goes up does have to come down. And it was on this downward end that I pulled ahead of my pacers. No problem. They were just behind me. For a long while, I could hear them chatting back and forth with each other. I was right where I needed to be…and I felt good. So far…so good. Run smart. That was the key.
The first three miles of this race were spent right along the shoreline of beautiful Lake Minnetonka. I mean…it was serene and gorgeous. And, the locals who lived along the streets came outside, even in the cold, to cheer all of us on. It was amazing and it can really make all the difference in the world. At Mile 3 we branched off away from the lake for about 2 miles and ran Fox Street. There were a couple more hills, and I remained in front of my pace group through this as well. It was really turning into a great run. I was feeling energized and really enjoying the run regardless of my time.
Now, here’s the thing about the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon – this is not a closed course. So, yes…we do share the road with traffic. And at certain points in the miles that were coming up, we were directed to run inside the white line of the shoulder…in single file. You want to talk about getting thrown off your pace?! I had never experienced something like that in a half marathon. Normally roads are closed for a couple of hours and then reopened after the back of the pack passes through. But not with this race. So, it made it very interesting to navigate these tight areas along the road. It was…a challenge…and a new experience all at once. This meant, if my pace was faster than the person in front of me, I either toughed it out behind them, or risked stepping outside the white line and into the road to pass. Runners were doing a combination of both.
We hit about mile 5.5 where the relay teams tagged off and sent their next runner out toward the finish. I was still making fantastic time and not really feeling like I was pushing myself too hard this early in the race. My biggest fear was petering out in the last couple miles for holding this strong of a pace so early. But, my legs felt good and strong so I kept on…still ahead of my pacers. But I could still hear them. So, I was technically right on pace. Once the relay teams tagged off, the remainder of the race, while still, at points, needing to be single file on the shoulder of the road, was back along the shoreline of the lake.
It was about the time we hit the apartment complex with the speed bumps that my pacers were right with me. And then…just ahead of me. Okay…no problem. I was going to run a comfortable race and push myself more than I normally do. They were right there…warming runners of bumps and when we hit Mile 8, one of them shouted out “That was a really great mile. 7:34 pace!” Sweet! We were down to the last 5 miles and I started my mental play to get me through to the end.
There were more hills, more flats, then, around Mile 11…loose gravel. Yes. Loose gravel. Apparently, the course now veered off the main road and onto what looks like it is known as the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail. So, we left the road and hit this trail that was a lot like the one I ran in Birmingham the weekend prior to this one. I hate loose gravel. It’s harder to get my footing and steady myself. Overall…it is more difficult to run on. I wasn’t prepared…and my pace team was now slipping further and further ahead of me. I could still see that sign though, so that gave me a little consolation. For the next two miles, I ran steady, but cautious, until just before Mile 13, where we were put back out onto the road. There was a hill to climb…so I tucked into it…fought my way up and it was all downhill to the finish line.
I came barreling toward that finish, not looking at the clock, just focused on getting through that gate. I could hear Heather and Cathy screaming for me. I could see Jan, and she was also shouting. I ran it in and crossed the finish line, pausing my Garmin a moment later and proceeding through the chute. I glanced at my Garmin…and it said 1:40:46. Holy crap…had I managed to actually do it?
Jan took a few pictures of me near the finish line and then I proceeded to walk around to where Cathy and Heather were waiting for me. I received big hugs and Heather started shouting, “ONE FOUR ZERO, ONE FOUR ZERO!” with me. It was amazing. I felt awesome at the end of the race. And Heather even commented that I was hardly sweating. Guess I need to push harder next time, eh? We joked around about that and Cathy got out my protein shake, which I drank slowly, and washed down with some water. We stood around for a bit, basking in the race, swapping stories, and everyone I was with just kept complimenting me on making my goal. After a moment, we decided to move toward the lake and maybe start making our way toward where we’d be meeting up with my cousin Andy and his girlfriend Courtney for brunch/lunch in a bit. As we made our way that way, Cathy spotted the massage chairs and asked if I wanted a massage.
Of course. So, I signed the waver and got settled on the chair. My massage therapist said that my lower left back was really tight, so he worked on that for quite awhile. I don’t know if he got it to loosen, but if felt good to get it worked on, regardless. After that, I decided my legs were cold, so I slipped my pajama pants back on and got out my jacket to wear. We made our way up toward the main drag. I was ready for something warm to drink, so we ducked into Dunn Bros Coffee. Cathy didn’t get anything to drink, but Jan got a mocha, heather got a soy latte and I snagged a cafe au lait with almond milk. It was warm, refreshing, and delicious. Just what I needed. As we finished off the drinks, we decided we’d head into the pub, Jake O’Connor’s, to get our reservation checked in. Cathy went to get my change of clothes from the car and Heather went with her. Jan and I got our table immediately after getting there, adding one chair to the party. That wasn’t a problem. And so…the rest of the party arrived. I immediately went to get changed and returned wearing my finisher’s medal and my race shirt.
I went for breakfast food that day, getting their Healthy Hash and Eggs Breakfast, which was a combination of Brussel sprouts, sweet corn, yellow onion, bell peppers, potato hash, and fresh avocado all sautéed together untill caramelized. I topped mine off with two poached eggs (which they overly poached…so no runny yolks) and then covered with a light hollandaise sauce. I skipped the brown bread since I’m gluten-free and made sure the entire dish was prepared gluten-free. When it arrived…aside from the over-poached eggs…it tasted amazing. I was in heaven with my food. Trust me…I was hungry. About halfway through I asked about getting a Magners, and a pint was happily delivered to me. Bliss.
After lunch, we all split off to do our own thing the rest of the day. For me, that meant a trip to the grocery store for gluten-free pasta, gluten-free marinara, gluten-free salad dressing, and other necessary items for dinner that evening with my cousin Molly and her family. Simple enough.
So, the official results of the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:40:46, taking just under 5 minutes off the half marathon PR I set in Disney World in February. Maybe being overly ambitious for this race was a good thing. And in a race with hills and with single file running on the shoulder of a busy road…yeah…quite pleased with that accomplishment. I was the 301/2425 finishers overall. WOOHOO!! I was 70/1288 women to cross the finish line. And I was 16/238 people in my age division. Super please with these results. Elated. And now aiming higher for the next one.
Running in grandpa’s footsteps brought me to a small, local half marathon. And I totally hit my pace and made everyone I was with, including myself, super proud.