On First Marathons & New Beginnings: A Twin Cities Marathon Recap
Editor’s Note: Dominic Ondoro won an unprecedented third straight Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon title on October 1st, 2017, adding another accomplishment to his list of marathoning feats on Minnesota soil. The 29-year-old Kenyan, who owns the course records at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon and Grandma’s Marathon, clocked 2:11:53. Matthew Porterfield won the men’s wheeler title in 2:04:03; Hannah Babalola was the women’s champion in the division in 2:24:34. In all, 7518 runners finished the 36th running of the Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America.
Since I started running, I’ve assumed I’d run a marathon. But once I completed a half marathon, I honestly wasn’t sure it was doable. Every half marathon I’ve finished, I’ve been absolute toast afterward. They are a real challenge. So when I finished my most recent half marathon, the Maple Grove Half in May (a great race on a challenging course that I’d highly recommend), I honestly could not imagine doing that distance twice, as I’d need to in order to complete a marathon. It was sobering - because I had signed up for the Twin Cities Marathon a few months prior. I realized this would be the biggest physical challenge of my life, and I dove into it.
MARATHON TRAINING CYCLE
I started training in June, and then struggled to get workouts in while on a family vacation in Northern Idaho, where the temps were in the 100s and I was surrounded by family I just wanted to hang out with! Then in early August, the wheels came completely off. A family emergency had me out in Spokane, Washington, which was filled with incredible amounts of smoke from area wildfires. I sincerely underestimated the effect of that smoky air, and immediately upon returning home, I had a hacking cough and a chest tightness that made running very uncomfortable. Sickness rolled through our house at the perfect time, and my cough turned into bronchitis and then immediately after a really fun sinus infection.
Needless to say, I averaged about 3 miles per week in August and into early September and was able to go from 5 to 17 to 30 miles - then into my taper. My initial moonshot had been a 4-hour marathon - but that went out the window and my goal became to just finish. My longest run (in my LIFE) was 15 miles. I had no illusions - this was going to be a huge test. It did not disappoint.
RACE DAY ATTIRE
It was raining for most of the morning and it was a cold rain. I wore my sweats, a long sleeve shirt and a Nike half-zip jacket with plans to drop them in the bag check area - for the race, I chose a technical t-shirt, running shorts with three pockets, the TC Marathon-provided FitSoks, a phone band on my arm, and the most important items: Bodyglide anti-chafe and nip guards. I used the provided pins and put my bib on my shirt - I think in the future I’m going to invest in a bib belt - allows for clothing changes better and that would have come in handy big time this race due to the rain.
Related: 8 Tips for Running in the Rain
MILES 0 - 8
I went out knowing that a 9:32 pace would put me around a 4:10, which would have been a perfect run given my training issues. I knew that was unlikely as I still was not in tip-top shape, but I also knew my legs had a solid base, it was mostly going to come down to my cardio, which had suffered a lot with all the downtime. I absolutely loved this section of the course. As you leave the city, you’re running along streets that are normally quite congested, so it’s pretty cool being able to take it all in - and surprisingly to me, the crowd support started immediately, and literally never let up. I noticed early on through the city and up the first hill of the course, a little ways into mile 2 as you pass the Walker Art Gallery and turn the corner just past it, that running the tangents is difficult to do. The route winds quite a bit as it approaches Lake of the Isles and then as it snakes through the chain of lakes. I had to constantly remind myself as we passed through the lakes area to just take it all in - it really is a beautiful course!
MILES 9 - 17
I was feeling very confident as we came out past Lake Harriet and headed down the parkway, and got a wonderful boost when I saw my cheering squad in this area. I had so many amazing people cheering me on for this race - it was truly humbling each time I saw them standing out in the rain just to encourage me - particularly my wife, who was TWO DAYS PAST HER DUE DATE! She was the only reason I brought my armband - I wanted to have my phone close to me so I could be sure to hear it, just in case at mile 17 she went into labor and I had to hoof it over to a taxi to the hospital or something!
During this stretch, the course winds down the parkway past 35W and around the south end of Lake Nokomis. From Nokomis, the course hooks up with the parkway once again and heads east towards the Mississippi River. At Mile 15, as I was running up the parkway, it started to fully hit me that every step I took was taking me further I had ever gone. I had started to wilt a little bit but was still running as I passed the mile 17 marker and felt an emotion that every marathoner knows - it’s the feeling of crossing a certain point in the marathon and in the span of a second, feeling incredibly ecstatic at how far you’ve run…and utterly bereft of hope at the prospect of how far you have to go.
MILES 18 - 25
At mile 18 I started to be pretty generous in my strategy of “walking through the water stops.” I’m still working through the why at this point but the only thing I can think of was that mental exhaustion had begun to kick in. Physically I was okay. I could still run, my breathing was not labored, and my heart rate was quite reasonable. At mile 19, I crossed the Franklin Avenue bridge, which gave a momentary lift as I saw a friend of mine who had been biking to various points along the course - I had seen him probably 4 or 5 times already and it was a great encouragement to see him! However, crossing the bridge also means (as all TC runners know) the marathon is no longer messing around. So begins what feels like 6 miles of gradual incline (in reality, it’s only about 3 miles) that just pummels you mentally. As you crest the long incline, you feel like you’ve just won a major victory - so begins the long grind that is Summit Avenue.
It’s not an intimidating section of road - but it just. never. ends. I knew at this point that my 4:10 was not happening, but I had told my wife (the 4:10 was only something I silently hoped for myself) that I thought 4:40 was a realistic goal, so I started to run/walk sections with that in mind. I would pick a street sign or stoplight, run there, then pick out a spot ahead and walk there. This was working alright for me and the miles were dwindling so I started to get a bit of a life. Then came the cold, hard and unforgiving rain. Because of my pace at this point, the rain felt freezing but I kept to the script and walked the chunks I felt I needed to. It was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other at this point. I had to fight off disappointment and just trust my body and mind, knowing that finishing was the goal and not letting my competitive nature put me in a compromised position. One beautiful part of this was that it gave me time to think and appreciate all the things that had motivated me to get to this point, and I resolved to cross the finish line running hard.
After crossing the marker for mile 25, somewhere around 25.5 miles into the most difficult physical challenge of my life, I started to settle back into a slow and steady jog. At various points I would be overcome with emotion - I could almost feel the turn and the finish line coming into view. Because of not running tangents and the variability of GPS, my watch had me a little under a ½ mile further than what the course had me at. This was another part of the mental battle - but finally, as my watch indicated I was approaching mile 26 (though the course was not yet), I decided to run hard.
I honestly can’t explain the emotions that rolled over me as I turned the corner, and saw the American flag and the finish line stretched out ahead of me. I was transported back to the moment last year when I resolved to do this and was amazed that I had done it. The rain had dissipated and suddenly I was warm, I was sprinting (well, I felt like I was sprinting, in reality, I was probably just running in the 8:20s, normally a tempo workout), but I was passing people and the finish line was all I could see. I crossed the finish line and every possible emotion washed over me - and then…a couple water stops worth of water and Powerade came out of me - to put it gently. A kind fellow runner assisted me and I got started down the finisher’s chute, where I finally reconnected with family as it began to rain again.
Sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and fresh socks have never felt so good. Initially, I told myself I had done it and that might be enough. But a day later I was already planning my next run at this course. That’s what the marathon does to you, it seems - it takes everything you have and more, and then lifts you back up to come back and do it again.
P.S. On the drive home, my wife went into labor and our son, Justin Stanley Rima, was born healthy and happy on October 2nd!