1 Lucky runner


I've been running awhile now, and find the places it has taken me to be interesting, fun and exhilarating. Most of what I write will be race oriented, whether I do well or not, I can usually find a story in the experience.

June 24, 2015: A little taste of success (finally)

Grandma’s 2015

 June 20, 2015

I’ve heard it said that every story must have a beginning, a middle and an end. That seems logical, right? The problem comes in deciding where it starts, how full the middle will be and when to end it. I mean, think about it for a minute…who’s to say where a story really begins. Take WWII for example. At first blush most people from my generation or later would say Pearl Harbor, but the reality is that it started long before that and depending on whom you ask the beginning is in flux. The middle can be very tough for me. When I write, because I write from inspiration, so it happens quickly, the middle can seem as full as Santa’s belly. I’ll go back and read it months or years later and it’ll look about as full as the belly on Jack Skellington (Tim Burton’s version of Santa). I can become overwhelmed with the urge to fill it out some, but in the end usually don’t and just hope that I’ll remember those morsels when I read it later in life. The end, the end, what to say about the end… I can usually find the ending pretty easily, but at times it just seems to want to continue on like that interminable song sung by Lamb Chop and friends. You know the one. The one that never ends.

My problem with this one is the beginning. I could start at the start line of the race where we stood in 55 degree temps through three pretty serious downpours, but that’s not quite the spot. Then there’s the day that Tom and I decided to team up for the race, but it seems like that would leave me with one hell of a back story to come up with. How about if it started at the point that I realized that I had a real shot at making a goal I had all but given up on. (When I ran my 18 mile, Saturday long run at my goal race pace and felt strong at the end) Still, one could wonder, “How did he get to that, when he thought it wasn’t possible?” This leads the start point being the Tuesday afternoon hill repeats I began in March to prepare for The Pikes Peak Marathon. Well, starting there definitely brings up questions about the possibility of entering PPM being the beginning.

You see how tough this can be? One could keep travelling back in time trying to burrow to the kernel of the thing. It can really be quite maddening to someone who wants to get to the right and proper start.

I could start with Beth’s birthday run. The day that I officially ended my hiatus from running. “Hiatus?” you could ask. Yep, I took about 4 months off because I was just burnt out, needed a break to do something different. At this point we’re 9 months from the day this story is supposed to be about and I just skipped over plenty of middle. Ol’ Skellington just went anorexic.

To fill in that middle I’d have to mention Kate being extremely supportive of my new nutrition plan, even though it was so different from what we had been eating. “Now, where the heck did that come from?” You seem a little taken aback. That really came from two sources: the first being a weight loss competition/program I joined at one of the gyms I use and the second being due to advice from my coach in that program. Gina was able to point out that my protein intake was less than half of what I needed due to the physical activity load I carry. Guess what folks. If you are burning an average of 1,000 calories a day working out and take in little protein it’s hard to build muscle. You get three guesses to tell me how we move our bodies.

Then I could start the story with the day, while signing up for my kettle bell class, I found out about the above mentioned program. That brings up that fact that I was taking kettle bell classes. “Huh?” I know. I know. If I mention kettle bells it bears mentioning that it brought a little joy back into my workout regimen due mainly to that fact that Kelly (the instructor) reminds me of SSGT. Hancock (one of my D.I.s). They both try to be hardnosed and tough but their true nature juuuuust won’t let them do it with a straight face. SSGT. Hancock was better at it, but Uncle Sam had givrn him some acting classes. For this story to not skip a breakfast or two I have to mention the day that Rick told me how much he liked kettle bells at this particular gym.

I could keep going on like this, but if you haven’t gotten the gist yet, you aren’t likely to ever get it. I’ll “end” this part of this story with this. I ran and ran and ran for more than a year after I knew I needed a break from running. The things I did during that break, and finding a compatible race partner made all the difference in the world.

So, if you stuck with me you’re standing on Old Highway 61 in front of a car dealership. “Holy shit! IS it raining!” I hear this from behind me and begin to reminisce about the 2014 Zumbro 17 a little and think to myself, “At least it’s pavement and over 35 degrees.” It soon stops but hits us two more times before we get started. By the time we start running I’ve been shivering for a good 15 minutes but it’s not currently raining and if I know anything about my rain jacket it’s that the thing doesn’t breath. At. All. So I should warm up shortly.

When I decided to drop out of the ½ and run the full, key to that decision was that fact that I would have a running partner to get me through the third quarter of the race. You see, I think most races, no matter the distance, can be broken into quarters. In the first quarter you just kind of sort things out and make general assessments. In the second you start to cruise a little and test the systems out a little. You know, kind push things to see what’s what. “Ooops, that was too fast. Better back off.” In quarter number three you find out if you pushed too hard back there in quarter two and try to salvage things if you did. How things go in the fourth is entirely dependent on how two and three went. If you worked the defense and ran the ball when you could in two and three, four is really an early victory lap. If you tried to air the ball out even though your arm was shot and your vision blurry…well, just find a Vikings fan they’ll be able to explain it pretty well.

The third quarter of Grandma’s Marathon has been my downfall all three times I’ve run it. I get to this little patch of desolate desert on the shore of Lake Superior, with miles of no spectators, pin pricks that my mind turns into bomb craters of pain, universes of self-doubt. It can be 6 miles of eternity. Yes, it’s that bad.

Hey, we’re back to me having a running partner to distract me from that little bit of hell. I hope you enjoyed the trip. I didn’t. So, Tom Clements accepted my proposal and we decided to try and help each other through this race.

I suspected for a while and confirmed at Fargo, last year, that if I had a partner it would go better for me in road marathons. You see, at marathon pace you can talk a little and that can kind of take your mind of the monotony of what you’re doing. When I run trails I’m distracted by tree roots that want to grab my feet, rocks that would love to taste the blood fresh from my split lip and trees that jump out into the trail just for sport. When I run a half marathon or shorter I’m racing everybody in front of me so am hurting so badly I don’t have time, or the ability to think.

Once again, back to Tom and Grandma’s. Skellington’s gaining weight though. I’ll say this about the rain, it didn’t get us much after the race started and by mile 5 I think it was done with us.

I feel like the plan worked pretty well. Tom did a good job of keeping us in check in the places I wanted to let the reins out and I kept an eye on my watch when we caught people to make sure we hadn’t sped up. When Tom said, “I think we need to pump the brakes a little.” The watch usually agreed with him. When the watch said we needed to slow down we listened to it. Having somebody to be accountable to, in the moment, made me race smarter. Having Tom there to chat with on occasion helped distract from the monotony and speed things along. He knows the course better than I and was able to bring me back to reality when I thought, by landmarks, that we were farther along than we actually were. It was much better to be set straight immediately than be expecting something in half a mile that doesn’t show up for three miles.

One of the cool little bits he knew is how “short” mile seven is. The GPS says it’s perfect and that we ran it at pretty close to the same pace as the rest of them but that bugger went by so fast I actually looked over my shoulder trying to see the mile six marker.

Kate was her usual supportive self and offered to be at a few spots along the course to give us fresh water bottles and cheer us along. Her first post was at mile 8. I saw her from quite a ways off, standing in a drizzle with a poster board sign. Unfortunately, it had rained on her pretty hard so the sign was all but dissolved. Fortunately she had the water and gels, so we did a kind of flying pit stop to get our supplies and keep moving. I think NASCAR may just want to look into the whole “flying pit stop” idea.

When we entered the third quarter we both got pretty quiet for while so I tried to force a conversation a few times but it just wouldn’t start. Kind of like Brian Bosworth’s acting career. (sorry, been wanting to use that for a looooooong time) It all worked out though, we had a few snippets in this part of the race and when I saw the marker for 18 I claimed a little victory in that I had now run further than I ever had in a Grandma’s Marathon. That seemed to give us both a little boost.

This turned out to be the first time I actually enjoyed the run through town. It’s amazing how much fun it can be when not tainted by the foul stench of failure. From mile 19 to 24 I had to work hard to keep my pace slowed and it was even tougher when Tom saw people who were there for him. We all do it. We speed up when they cheer. Tom would pick up some speed and I would start to go with him, look at my watch and have to back off. He would go for about 20 seconds or so, look around and wait for me. The role would reverse when we got some open air. I could smell the finish line and my legs just wanted to get there so I could finally have a good long taste of it. 3 times I had tried. 3 god damned times. Tom did his part and reminded me that, “We need to pump the brakes”, or “We need to take a breather here.”

For all the hill training I’ve been doing, it’s quite disheartening how much faster he got up those little hills on the Grandma’s course…except the one from London Road to Superior Street. I made the left and looked over my left shoulder. No Tom. A quick look over my right. No Tom. I’m in a pretty big panic now. In hindsight I realize he must have been directly behind me, but he had fallen off the pace, or I got a little enthusiastic on that hill. As we ran by DRC I was struck by Beth screaming so loudly she was bent over and red faced. Holy Crap!

Next was Sir Ben’s Pub and Gina. And her sign. And her girlfriend Annie. And her sign. Did I mention the sign? She had one of the dry erase signs that Wells Fargo gives out at the expo. It read, or rather, I read it as, “Paul, Don’t Poop!” and immediately laughed because of the fact that the guys at work say I’m not a real runner due to the fact that I’ve never crapped myself during a run. Now, here’s somebody telling me not to do the thing that would make me a real runner. Gina says that it said, “Paul, Don’t Poop out!” Sure Gina, sure.

Mile 24 is shortly after DRC. A few years back I was having a really bad 20 miler and talked myself through the last 6 or 8 by chopping it into 2s. I told myself, “I can run two miles standing on my head, just go two more.” Since then I’ve always kind of relished the last two miles of a long training run and will try to ratchet things up a little for those last two. That’s what I did here. Well, it’s what I thought I did. My heart rate trend shows that I did but my mile splits tell a slightly different story. I’m sure some of that was caused by the wind. There really wasn’t much of a wind until we got to town and it was at our back, by then, so it was kind of nice. Until I turned onto 5th Ave West. Then it was kind of in my face and when I rounded the corner of Harbor Drive it hit me with its full gale force of 5 miles per hour and did its worst. I heroically worked to muster the energy to keep on truckin’.

Right at mile 26 a course official yelled, “Way to go Paul Wilken!” I had to look twice to focus and register that it was Dana.

So little and so far to go.

In the end. Yes kiddies we’re almost there. I ran every step of that thing. My time of 3:21:50 is a new PR (by over 16 minutes) and I qualified for Boston (now to get in). As a bonus I was also able to help Tom do so. With that said, I’d like to thank Tom for helping me finally make this goal. It wouldn’t have happened without you.


Wow! Great story Paul! Thanks for sharing!

Shelly T - June 26, 2015 - 3:11 PM

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