Marathons: Paul #79, Leah #69, State #50!! : Grand Rapids Marathon 2015
18th October 2015, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Finish Time = 3:35:27
So began our journey to Grand Rapids in Michigan for State number 50 as well as sub-4 State number 50! The logistics that went into making it the double-goal in the same event should not be underestimated. And I’m not even joking. Countless hours of planning, scheduling, journey mapping, flight and hotel booking went into that. If we hadn’t managed our target time at any of the 27 marathons through 2015 it wouldn’t have happened. We had e-mailed the race director ahead of time and he had kindly assigned us bib numbers of 50 and 504 (50<4).
We arrived in Grand Rapids on Saturday afternoon and the first thing we noticed was the temperature difference from Denver. It was still around 80F in Denver, but Grand Rapids was mid 40s. We’ll take cool and sunny over a lot of other weather types though.
We made our way over to the expo which had a few things to look at and we picked up our bibs, collecting our special numbers as promised. That evening we went to an Italian restaurant for some pasta, a little bit of wine and also some excellent dates stuffed with goat’s cheese.
Our sleep wasn’t the best, really it was just another marathon and considering we were going through the routine for our 79th and 69th times respectively it shouldn’t be any different. But we definitely felt like it was a bigger event than usual. In truth it was.. this was the last marathon being held in the state of Michigan this year, so if we didn’t run a sub-4 hour time for whatever reason, our plans to complete the challenge would be completely messed up.
We got to the start on time, used the restrooms and went to line up. We already had people asking us about our 50 States Marathon Club Finisher vests and the custom bibs we had on our backs showing it being our 50th State in under 4 hours, so that was nice.
We started into a fast pace early on, sticking with the 3:29 pace group and the aches and pains from the previous 7 weekends, and 27 marathons of the year, largely disappeared.
We didn’t know anyone else at the event which was a shame but we ended up chatting with a lot of different runners throughout the race. Our tops and custom bibs were a good talking point and running our 50th State was either a goal that others also identified with and were heading down the same path, or something that people who were running their first marathon or had run a few, were keen to know more about.
The course was great, we had started off in the city center and ran through it before heading onto some bike trails and paved bike path taking us round the picturesque Millennium Park and lake, underneath tall trees with their leaves and branches arching over us from either side. Autumn (US fall) was well underway and so the leaves were different shades of yellow and oranges, both on the ground around us and also still attached to the branches.
We finished the first half in 1:45 and I did wonder if Leah could get a new PR (sub 3:32) or a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time of sub 3:35:00. We didn’t want to make this race a struggle though or take away from the enjoyment of running it by replacing it with a competitive edge. Whatever would be would be.. as long as it was under 4 hours of course.
We kept up a steady pace but did stop at a couple of aid stations to drink the water properly. It was in cups which isn’t a problem in the summer but once the weather gets colder, spilling water over your hands, legs or into your shoes, as I did, becomes a lot more uncomfortable!
We enjoyed the run and it was good to feel strong and not have to worry about looking at our watches or working out whether we would make it in under 4 hours. We talked together about our past races, highlights and low points, likes and dislikes and reflected on our journey.
As we closed in on the finish line we sprinted on hoping to beat the seconds for a 3:34:xx and a BQ time for Leah but it wasn’t to be. We didn’t really mind. We crossed the line in 3:35:27, completing what became a goal to run a marathon in all 50 US States, which started out from me wanting to run one in 10 of the States to be eligible to order the vest. We also finished the 50 Sub 4 Challenge, becoming only the 73rd and 74th people ever to have completed it. What’s more, Leah broke the record to become the youngest ever female finisher!
We went through the finish, did some stretching and then made our way to the beer garden for a celebration pint.
Reflections after completing the 50 States
Following the race, I definitely experienced some feelings I hadn’t counted on. We’ve had this goal every day for the past 3 years and always had “the next race” paid for and in the calendar, often coming up the month, fortnight or even weekend after. It was strange to no longer have it. We’ve made some good friends along the way, turning up at the same races and catching up on what each other had been doing since the last time. Would we even see them again? And then there was the race itself, while we enjoyed it and couldn’t have asked for a better race in Michigan, it’s not like there’s a big fanfare for you at the end. It’s your achievement and not necessarily the pinnacle of your journey in terms of experiences. I can see why people choose their home state to be their last, surrounded by friends and family. That takes a lot of foresight though, most people have already run a marathon in their home state by the time they even consider trying for all 50.
It made me realise more than ever that it really is about the journey and not the destination. We’ve had so many highlights along the way, including running beside migrating whales in Hawaii, glaciers in Alaska, stunning scenery in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, saluting the Marines in Virginia, seeing family members for the first time in years in Wisconsin, running an American football to a touchdown in West Virginia, Leah singing the National Anthem in Nebraska, winning races in New Mexico, getting crapped on by a bird in Maryland, hanging out with farm animals in Oregon, drinking, laughing and relaxing with running friends in Vermont, and being part of the Marathon Maniacs reunions in both Louisiana and Mississippi with hundreds of club members turning up for speeches, games, dinner and of course running.
We’ve grown as athletes, from runners doing a marathon a month in 2013 and sometimes barely scraping the sub-4 hour time, to doing almost double the number of marathons in 2014, but still sometimes barely scraping, or occasionally missing, the sub-4s, to doing almost double the number of marathons again in 2015 and confidently achieving fast times throughout the year. We’ve laughed together, been sad together, celebrated victories together, been scared together, hobbled around the next day together and both looked at each other and agreed “no more marathons”, before promptly signing up for the next one.
If the journey hadn’t had character or these experiences, say we had ran an indoor marathon for each State around a track and didn’t talk to anyone, although ultimately it would have been the same goal achieved, completing the challenge wouldn’t have the same meaning.
I see now more than ever, that it’s not about just about achieving the goal, it’s about what you went through to achieve it that counts.
I think no matter what you’re aiming towards in life, take the time to enjoy and appreciate the experiences you go through to get there, remembering what you learnt and how you grew.
For me, this is one of the most important lessons I’ll be taking away from our 50 States journey.
Elevation Graph from my running watch:
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