Race Report: Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon 2019

Way back in the exciting Spring months of 2019 — you know, back when we had just conquered another long winter and the feeling of hope had returned — I set aggressive goals for the races to come.

2018 ended disappointingly on the running front after a severe hip flexor strain; so I was ready to get back at it and put the training lessons I learned in the previous year to work. I had three marathons in my sights and three goals to go with them.

Goal #1: Run sub-3:15 at Fargo Marathon in May

Finished in 3:16:32 on a wet, rainy and cold day; which wasn't quite on goal but I felt it was a complete success! Lots of happy checkmarks on that goal page in my Believe Journal. That was 5 minutes cut off my ancient PR from 2011. Finally!

Goal #2: Run back-to-back (2 week) marathons 

I ran the Grand Forks Marathon and Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon two weeks apart back in 2016 and wanted to do that again for some weird reason. I had one week to recovery and one week to basically re-taper before the next race. Two marathons 2 weeks apart feels relatively sane to me — now those two marathons in one weekend things... that's nuts! (I'm no ultra runner, as I've stated before)

Grand Forks Marathon went way better than I ever could have imagined especially being sick during race week. The weather was perfect and I finished in 3:11:26! Ecstatic. The entire run felt smooth and I was fine after finishing; less soreness than previous marathons — thank you, strength training! That's another 5 minutes chipped off the PR.

Though I was able to train at the 3:05 paces, I wasn't 100% confident in pulling that off on race day and a 3:11 was a huge success for me. It was also good enough for a 1st Female finish and a realization that running a sub-3 marathon can be a reality for me. Who knew that a 3:11 marathon could feel so good?!

Goal #3: Finish 1st Female in both

This last goal was a bit lofty and I will admit it's not exactly a "healthy" goal - placing a success/or failure rating based on where you finish in the race never is. The last two races of my year were smaller in size and finishing as first gal is more realistic for me than at the bigger races. Granted, no matter how the race has gone in past years, you never know who will show up or how your run will go or etc etc. There are just too many variables in the marathon to take anything for granted!

If both races went well, there was a chance I could finish first female at both BUT everything needed to come together and there's never a guarantee for that. If the Lord opened an opportunity for me to do this, I was certainly going to be ready to take it!

Because of the crazy snow storms about to hit eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, the kids and I left on Wednesday afternoon for my mom and dad's farm. We debated on all coming to Saturday's race but I felt best leaving the kids back with my mom due to the weather.

This race was set to be cold, wet and snowy. The roads weren't bad on the way there, just some slushy mess as we got closer to Bemidji. Thankfully I had my dad with so I wasn't worried one bit!

After making it to the race and picking up my number, I was so glad to see that the race had pacers this year, as back in 2016 they didn't for my pace. It was funny to look over and see the 3:15 pacer from Fargo on the starting line of this race! This time he was pacing the 3:25 group and I set my goal to just stay ahead of them.

The plan was to race the first half marathon hard and then see what my body would give me. I needed to bank time before the hills and all the cumulative fatigue really hit me. My left foot and right knee were feeling a little glitchy and I was praying that they wouldn't flare up and knock me out of the race.
1 - 6:51
2 - 7:13
3 - 7:15
4 - 7:13
5 - 7:22
6 - 7:12 - not feeling it; legs were dead and I was already ready to be done !?
7 - 7:08
8 - 7:12
9 - 7:10
10 - 7:33 - too hot, took off the vest & had to re-pin number; decided to stop for that :)
11 - 7:16
12 - 7:20
13 - 7:29 - miserable, cold and alone (besides awesome aid station people)
14 - 7:53
15 - 8:08 - stopped at med station, volunteer borrowed me chapstick! lips and face frozen.
16 - 7:41
17 - 7:39
18 - 8:28 - enter: the hills... and more rain... and more wet
19 - 7:48

20 - 8:35 - debated on changing into a dry coat that my dad brought; decided not to
21 - 8:20
22 - 8:31
23 - 9:08
24 - 8:21 - lead biker found me; I should probably keep running...
25 - 8:15
26 - 7:37
.56- 6:55
Oh it felt EXTRA good to cross the finish after this run! 3:22:40 felt so much harder than the 3:11 only two weeks ago. The whole race felt hard; the legs weren't flowing this time, my mental game struggled and my mind was looking for any excuse to quit. Because of the Lord's strength I didn't accept those excuses; honestly they all sounded pretty good at the time.

Time to get warm and find a nice Pumpkin Spice Latte ('tis the season)!

Photo from Bemidji Pioneer

With the goal being to break my personal best on this course (3:25:36), I count that as a mission accomplished! It sure didn't feel good but I was glad to see a 3:22-something on the clock.

The Blue Ox Marathon has the most creative awards and medals, very well fitted to this land of the lumberjacks! The blue cow bells were Age Group awards this year, winners of the full marathon receive a double headed axe and runner ups receive a hatchet. 26k and half marathon winners get hatchets as well I believe.

Now that it's all said and done, this year of marathoning has been one of success and growth. I'm so grateful to whittle down that PR! Over 13 marathons, I'm noticing how easy it was to cut off chunks of time at first and now, the faster you get, the harder it is to shave off five minutes here or there. Every race and every training cycle is a learning experience. Thankfully I'm learning a new lesson each marathon and generally not repeating the same mistakes over again. I tend to think of a new mistake to make each time.

After having such a great time at the Grand Forks and Blue Ox Marathons this year, I'm going to end the back-to-back marathoning on a high note. Racing the marathons two weeks apart has been an exciting challenge but I'm counting this as a victory over the challenge and don't plan on doing it again. 

Just glad to be done! (Photo from Bemidji Pioneer)

Next Goal: Continue to chip away at that marathon time, minute by minute if I have to!

Race Report: Grand Forks Marathon 2019

What ended up being my worst ever taper week turned into the best outcome. That was Grand Forks Marathon 2019 in a nutshell for me.

Parenthood is a blessed daily lesson in humility, it really is, and the past couple weeks were just another one of those lessons! Our youngest boy (23-month-old, can I just say he's 2 already?!) had a gunky cough and runny nose the past couple weeks. Then it passed on to 6-year-old. My husband and our 4-year-old both seemed to avoid getting this sick bug so I figured "Ah ha! My superior immune system helped me miss it too!"

Think again there, Amy, think again.

To sum up race week, Monday felt "off" as we met for homeschool co-op; more tired than usual. Tuesday = felt bleh and then Wednesday I was pretty much useless. My neck was stiff, lymph nodes swollen, sinuses stuffed and I had a miserable headache. No cough, just a runny nose and PAIN. This felt like a sinus infection coming on so I drank water, some apple juice, some gatorade, even some kombucha; to push this grossness out with, well, fluids.

Much of our lessons took place with me wrapped up in a blanket on the couch and the kids seemed disappointed that I was such a (literal) bump on a log. I read Tina Muir's article about getting over sickness before race day and put her tips into action.

Thursday I headed out for a few early morning miles with my running partner (she is great!) and running itself felt easy -  the post-run exhaustion concerned me though. My heart rate was elevated and I was freezing... sooo I dug out the sinus rinse bottle and school took place mostly on the couch again. After getting the kids to bed, I passed out. Absolutely zero packing got done.

I contemplated skipping Grand Forks and focusing on the Bemidji Blue Ox (2 weeks after) instead but, after coming this far, from being injured last Fall to being ready to race this year... and then missing due to a measly sinus cold?! I needed to give it a shot. I could jog the race just to finish if need be. Not every race needs to be raced, right?

We'll see what comes tomorrow.

Friday: Race Day Eve. I woke up feeling very little improvement and anxiety about all that needed to get done that day before I could sleep again (I'm not the first mom to feel that way!). Lessons were finished, lunch, I packed while toddler napped and then we were off to Grand Forks. The expo is pretty low-key, which I like especially when bringing the kids with me. We saw Amanda as she was leaving the expo and, when I said I was a bit under the weather, she said she would pray for my healing. I definitely needed prayer! After picking up my number, we wandered booths and I was thankful to finally meet Kristen with Run Your Life! She has been so helpful as I have been working to up my strength training "game" after that 2018 injury.

Expo, check. Sam's Club to pick up hotel snacks. Then checking into the hotel room. My family met us there and I'm so grateful they wore out the kids at the pool! The boys drew good luck pictures on one of my hands for race day and I wrote Psalm 105:4 on my other hand. "Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always."

We got to bed a bit late and so maybe I was up a few times that night - I'm not sure if the toddler woke me or if it was just nerves or a runny nose - but overall, that certainly wasn't my worst hotel overnight with kids! The weather was set to be perfect for running (unlike Fargo back in May); now if only I could feel better.

You think they like to watch mom run? Nah, they're in it for the hotel pool & snacks!
The "big" boys swimming with Auntie Dbo

I suppose it's about time I actually got into the race details :)

On race day morn, I woke up actually feeling GOOD! Isn't that always a shock after being sick? "This is what it feels like to be human again"! 

Praise the Lord - those prayers for healing were answered and in a big way. My mom joined me for breakfast because she's an early morning kinda gal. 5:00 am wasn't a bad wakeup time - actually pretty standard for marathon training. After getting packed up and ready, I headed out to the Scheels Shuttle Bus.

The bus ride over was quick and I enjoyed the company of a Bostonian Marathon Maniac who was running her 48th marathon (!!!) and was chasing that 50-states goal. That's SO crazy! I enjoyed visiting with her as we waited in Camp Hog as well. Grand Forks is the perfect size race because there wasn't a massive line-up at the porta potties before the race. A couple stops there and it was time to line up!

My plan was to hang with the 3:10 pace group as long as my body allowed. The start line mob spread out fairly quickly over the first few miles. Pacer #1 kept us going a little fast which helped to bank up extra time. This was the chattiest pace group I have ever ran with and that made the miles fly by.

Pacer #1 swapped out at mile 14 and Pacer #2 did a great job as well (besides the fact that I couldn't keep up with him!). Grand Forks had an awesome team of pacers this year!

1 - 7:05
2 - 7:09
3 - 7:06
4 - 7:10
5 - 7:06
6 - 7:11
7 - 7:06
8 - 7:03
9 - 7:10
10 - 7:13
11 - 7:05
12 - 7:04
13 - 7:00
14 - 7:02
15 - 7:06
16 - 7:20
One runner and I from the 3:10 pace group stuck together basically the entire race. Around miles 16 and 20, I saw my wonderful family cheering section and that boosted the moral! Mile 16 had me feeling out of gas and the marathon crazy was starting to set in.

We talked about that while running; the delirious stage you hit in the later miles when basic math becomes challenging. At the delirious stage, my main goal was to stay under 8-min/mile. At mile 20, we were thinking "Oh, now we just need to run a 10k! That's all. 10k's are fun." As crazy as that sounds, tricking my brain in those final miles actually works.

These people are THE BEST! 
17 - 7:16
18 - 7:23
19 - 7:18
20 - 7:25
21 - 7:24
22 - 7:21
23 - 7:22
24 - 7:34
25 - 7:34
26 - 7:18
.56- 6:32

We kept up the pace really well for the last 10k and it was glorious to see the finish line when the biker guy, fellow runner and I turned the corner. I LOVE that Grand Forks is a straight shot to the finish line after that final turn. Races that weave you around the parking lot just mess with me!

I picked up the pace as much as possible for that final stretch!

3:11:26. SO. HAPPY.

It was pretty much a dead stop just a few strides after crossing the finish line. Thankfully the cool weather left me feeling really good after this race; no dizziness and not super sore! I owe Kristen a big thank you for the strength training wisdom because my hips and legs didn't feel dead after crossing the finish line. Crazy, right?! My energy was completely gone and I desperately needed a cheeseburger but that was about it besides typical marathon stiffness.

Huge personal victories for this race were:

  • Staying sub-8:00/mile for the entire race (7:34 was actually my "slowest" mile!)
  • Not walking a single stride through aid stations.
  • A 5-minute PR off Fargo Marathon back in May

And my Garmin data said this race was 26.56 miles @ 7:13/mile. That was encouraging because maybe, just maybe, that sub-3:00 marathon can happen in the next 8 years or so. You never know!

As rough as the race week had been, this race really couldn't have gone any better! I was met at the finish line by my favorites; my mom & dad, hubs & the boys, bro & sis-in-law, and by sweet friends too. Answered prayers and God's healing strength over this sinus cold just blow me away. There's no other way to explain feeling that terrible one day to being able to run a marathon the next. I've had quite a few sinus problems in my life and they don't just go away overnight on their own!
Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. Psalm 105:4

Thank you to my family for watching kids and for coming out to support my love for this crazy sport! Marathons aren't that exciting to watch but you certainly don't lack enthusiasm :) I am so grateful for the friends I was able to meet up with at the race, for such solid pacers, kind volunteers, fellow runners and just an overall beautiful day for running. Everything came together this weekend.

Now onto recovery, taper and 26.2 #13!