The weekend of June 21st, we made the trek up north to Duluth, Minnesota for Grandma's marathon. The race was on Saturday, so we departed Thursday night after work, dropping Oscar off at a local boarder (see bottom of post) and dropping our fosters, Betty and Huey, off with another volunteer in Milwaukee along the way.
Given that the total drive is about eight hours, we elected to drive part way on Thursday night. We arrived in Eau Claire, WI (about five hours from Chicago) around 12:30am and joined my parents at the Country Kitchen Inn. The hotel is under going rennovation and nice, but it was a bit of an awkward set up. They were already sleeping and by the time we woke up, they were already on their way to Duluth, but it worked out for everyone.
Friday morning after sleeping in a bit, we hit up Starbucks and finished our then three hour drive to Duluth. Arriving around lunch time, we decided to get lunch in Duluth before driving north towards Two Harbors, MN, where our cabin was located. Leave it to us to pull into a town and head straight towards a brewery. Typical.
Canal Park Brewing Company is located on the main pier downtown and right on Lake Superior. It's new, modern, clean and pristine. In short, we loved it. All of the beer comes directly from the vats behind the bar (vs a keg). It's pretty cool to see all of the available beer right in front of you.
|Did you notice the lights? I made sure to take a picture to remember this idea for Ben's future man cave.|
We also loved their beer "menu". Each beer had a description sheet along with a picture.
Given that Ben was running a marathon the next day, and I a half, we opted to split a flight to sample out the goods. Our favorite was their IPA, Stoned Surf. It was so good we picked up a growler to go for our post race celebration.
The food was equally as good. We ordered way too much, especially given how large the portions were. My recommendation would be to split an order of fish and chips. The fish tacos are good (not as good as Chicago's Howells and Hood), but the fish and chips is where it's at (of course I neglected to take a picture of them. I hadn't anticipated such tastiness), especially being right on Lake Superior.
|Cheese curds (It's a shame I didn't like cheese when I lived in WI for 5 years and now I love it)|
After our fiinishing lunch, we drove to meet my parents at our rental cabin for the weekend: Bob's Cabins. My mom's cousins (also runners) had told us about the race itself, Grandma's Marathon, as well as Bob's Cabins. It's about 20 minutes north of Duluth, right on Lake Superior. The amenities are minimal (okay, non-existent), but it's an ideal spot for an easy, relaxing weekend. No TVs (although there is wifi, a lot of writers come here we were told), but there is the sound of the waves rushing on the lake.
And the view. Even with the fog, you can't be the view.
Now, after looking at that, the cabin itself isn't much of a sight to see. But, in fairness, here you go...
Our cabin, #12, had two bedrooms, one bathroom and could sleep six (to the left in this picture there is a wall and on the other side of the wall is the living room with a futon). Sadly, Bob's doesn't allow dogs; otherwise this would be the perfect spot for a long weekend.
There are also chickens. Their boldness, eagerness to greet us on the porch, was actually quite terrifying for me. It didn't help that when my dad would open the door and yell "here chickadees" they'd come running!
Let's go back to the view instead, shall we?Va Bene Caffe, an Italian spot. We'd picked this based on Trip Advisor reviews and were not let down. The food, from the bruschetta, to the house made pasta noodles, to our chocolate cake dessert, was fabulous. Sadly, I didn't get any pictures to document. Each of us ordered a different entree and we all agreed it'd been an amazing meal. We were seated in the patio room, which was 100% covered but overlooked the lake. Gorgeous.
Garry Borkland Half Marathon). The half marathon capacity is capped at 6,000. Because the half is so popular, there's a lottery system set up have the opportunity to even sign up for the race. We entered as a group (Mom, Dad and I) but our group was not selected to get race entry...thus, we ended up signing up for the full marathon (like Ben), but planned/trained for only running the first half of the race.
Because of this, Friday night we dropped one of our cars off at near mile 13.5 (at McQuade Harbor; which has access to the highway to Duluth, even during the race), so that come Saturday, Mom, Dad and I could convene at the car and then drive downtown to find Ben and hopefully see his full marathon finish.
Friday night lights went out around 9pm for our 5:30am wake up Saturday. The race didn't start until 7:45, but we planned on driving to Two Harbors to take one of the shuttles to the race start (Gma's is a bit unique in that the start and finish of the race are two different locations so they have shuttle buses to bring runners to the start). The start was closer to our cabin than the finish. Our plan was foiled when we couldn't cross one of the roads due to the race, so we ended up parking our car on the lone side street by the race start.
The race itself was good for me until about mile 10 (that's when my legs started to tired out). I ran with my mom the entire race. I used the bathroom twice, which slowed us down some (and yes, I felt you needed to know this). We were thoroughly impressed with all of the port-a-potties and aid/drink stations along the course. I guess I felt like I needed to take advantage? The course itself is on a scenic drive, so either side is surrounded by trees and the occasional spurt of houses or lake view.
It was in the mid 40s when we started off the run. I wore shorts and a wick-away tee with a crappy "throwaway" t-shirt on top. I was about a mile into the race when I got warm enough to toss my tee. The weather was pretty much ideal for such a race.
Neither my mom or I wore a watch and since we weren't sure what the time on the clock had been when we crossed the starting line, we truly had no idea what our pace was. I hadn't been adamint about getting a certain time and had been thinking of this race as more a race for fun, so that was fine with me.
At mile 10, as we crossed by the marker my mom said "10, did he say 10 or 2? It can't be just 2?". At this point I was losing energy and for whatever reason, this stupid annoyed me. So, I responded by yelling something along the lines of "10, it's 10. How the hell would it be 2?". After this, a man ran up to us and asked "Family race?". This may or may not have been the highlight of the race for me.
We finished after 13.1 miles. It's a strange to know you are stopping running when the majority of people around you are continuing. Around mile 12 we went by a few fans and as I passed I heard one say "wow, does she look strong!". Little did she know I only had 1.1 miles left.
Once we finished we checked in at the med tent to tell them we were stopped. While in there, a man came in. The staff asked if he was continuing. His response: "I trained for 13.1 miles. I ran 13.1 miles. I'm done". We decided we liked him.
At this point, the rain started. It'd be foggy before, but now it was raining and it was cold. We were glad we'd packed pants and long sleeves to put on in the car. After my dad met us, we tried to hurry downtown. Not gonna happen. Everyone was trying to hurry downtown. Along the way I kept receiving text updates with Ben's times at designated mileages. At one point his pace slowed by over 2 minutes per mile (going from 7min pace to 9min pace). I was nervous he was struggling. He had developed some IT band issues the last month of training and he said before the race he wasn't sure he'd be able to finish.
We were still about 20 minutes away, given the traffic, when I got the text Ben finished, 3:30! His goal time! I teared up when I got the text. I was so incredibily happy that he'd finished AND achieved his goal (which was 28 minutes faster than his first marathon, Chicago BOA 2011). Now the hard part was finding him. We parked and headed to the after party. It took us about an hour to find him (this part of our plan was flawed as we'd thought we'd be there to see him finish).
By the time we reached him, it was scary. He had on his "race blanket" but otherwise was in shorts and his short sleeved shirt. His lips were BLUE, yes blue. He was holding his victory beer but his hands were shaking so badly it was half spilled. I was terrified. We rushed him to changed into his warm clothes while we got him coffee and then got him inside for lunch.
Once inside, he looked much better. Ironically, the night before we'd joked about the weather conditions. Each race as a color code flag system to alert runners of weather conditions. Ben had "ha, white means risk of hypothermia". Being that Chicago 2011 had been red conditions (extreme heat, use caution), the idea of white was pretty crazy to us, but the condition on race day for Grandma's was white. I'm certain that when we'd found Ben he was borderline hypothermic.
Anywho, we found Amazing Grace, a cozy bakery and sandwich spot in the shopping center at the pier. You order by creating your own sandwich, choosing from the bread type to the fixings. It was delicious!
Ben looked so much better after he warmed up, and got some food and beer in him.Warehouse Liquors. A spot that looked like a hole in the wall, but had reviews of being an awesome craft beer shop. It didn't disappoint.
We drove back and contemplated where to eat dinner, being that the Blackhawks game was on at 7, which needed a spot with good food, good beer and TVs. We ended up going to Black Woods in Two Harbors and perched up in a bar table for the game. The food was okay. Strangely none of us were that hungry, although my chicken pot pie was delicious. At 9pm, with the game still on, we decided we were too tired to stay for the third period.
Instead, we grabbed some firewood and set up shop on along the lake and listened to the game via WGN radio.
The flames of the fire, the sound of the waves, and the companionship of family made for a great night. The Blackhawks win made for a perfect night. Of course, the beer was good too. It was our first time being able to get our hands on beer from Odell Brewing and we were not disappointed. (Myrcenary is ranked as one of the top 50 beers to try)
Sunday morning before departing home, we drove into Two Harbors for breakfast at Vanilla Bean Cafe.
Paradise for Paws for the first time. They have private rooms, not kennels, which was important to us. He received at least two 2-hour community play times a day and even got to go swimming (which he loves). We were given a report card of his stay (surprisingly it sounds like he pretty much stuck to himself, except when another bully appeared). He was extremely tired when we picked him up. If the dire situation comes up again, we would not hesitate to board with P4P again. (Note: they have webcams in the play areas for you to monitor your dog. Unfortunately we couldn't get the app to work on either of our phones (Droid and iphone)).
Race Review: As I ran the first half of the race, I wondered what Ben would think of it. A lot of people say it's a fast track and easy place to PR. I didn't find it so. My final race time was 2:11, much slower than my PR, 2:04 (Sept 12) and closer to my first half marathon time, 2:14 (Aug 10). The course was tree lined with spurts of fans, but otherwise it really was just running on a road.
Ben really liked it. For both of us, Chicago BOA had been overwhelming, too much so, with the intense crowd and number of runners. Ben said there were more fans once in town (the last ~6 miles), but it wasn't overbearing. He's not sure he'd run the course again, but he also says he's not sure he wants to run another marathon), but that he would recommend it to another runner.