Grandma’s marathon is a marathon with a 7 hour cut off. I decided to check off state #40 in Duluth. Due to summer schedules I was at the airport an extra hour earlier to catch my flight because the TSA line is a crap shoot; yes I have PreCheck. They often have random dog checks where each person has to walk through the large blocked of space for the dog to sniff which always adds time to your wait. This trip was courtesy of Delta, no they did not give me a free ride. I wish an airline would give me just one flight along my journey, but who am I? Basically nobody, an average Joe that flys across America sharing my testimony to a perfect stranger in that state. I started this journey sharing with an athlete on the course, but it has evolved to sharing it on the plane to and/or from, in restaurants, to volunteers, to bystanders on the side of the race course. God blessed me and I just want to share. There is still some good in the world , miracles do happen and people need to see it and here about it.
I flew from IAH to Duluth with a connection in Minneapolis. As I walked a quarter mile with my two back packs, I could feel my lower back complaining.
I walked right over to the wheelchairs and asked for a chair. The lady looked at me and said for who?! I said with a frown, for me. She looked at me like I was perpetrating a fraud. Yeah I know, I look abled bodied and I complete marathons. Nonetheless my unseen mobility is still a disability. I was feeling all of my disabilities at that moment and needed an intervention. The one thing I don’t do is ruck march. My two back packs keep me balanced. There is one my front and one on my back. In reality they are not as heavy as a rucksack, but they are like to carrying a ruck and commo. Commo is short for communication equipment or comms if your were not in the military. That equipment was like carrying a ton of bricks, but I digress. I longer use rolling bags because they look deceiving (that’s another story). Bottom line is I need airline staff to know I am putting one bag above and one bellow whether it is an express jet or larger aircraft. The escort pushed me to my gate and stuck around to get me on the plane. When I went to lay my phone on the ticket scanner for the gate attendant nothing happened. It took a 30 seconds, but that felt like a lifetime. I could fear the stares of other passengers, finally it beeped. I started my trek to the plane. I got to the door of the plane and the flight attendant insisted on taking my bags after I told her no. So I reached out to hand her the bag and of course again nothing. When you look normal people get impatient, they are more likely to sigh, change body positioning and sometimes they openly say hurry up and hand it to me. Well unfortunately I can’t let go and they have to wait for my hand to release. She said nothing she was just impatient. I told her I didn’t want help. Once she realized I was having a physical difficulty she was a bit nicer. She asked if there was anything she could do for me. I honestly wanted to say, back the F%$^ off! Instead I brought comedy saying yeah can you run to the back and get me a new hand. She started to head to the back when she realized what I said and chuckled with me. The flight was uneventful. The highlight for me was getting Cheez-Its and 2 Dark Chocolate Kind Bars with my Cran-Apple drink. I love to eat, thus my size (let’s not even get started) as I am probably the first Athena Mobility Impaired Athlete. I also enjoyed the free WiFi texting, but no one was available to text so I decided to work on my music for the podcast. We landed in Minneapolis and there was not wheelchair for me to get me from one concourse to the next, 😢. Since my flight was due to board in 5 minutes I tried to ruck march. My first thought was, “pain… in my legs, pain… in my back” Those are words from a cadence and very appropriate. I walked to the nearest moving cart and told them that I was boarding in the B concourse. The driver scanned my boarding pass and drove the cart like the building was on fire. I was afraid for the pedestrians. Which had me shouting, “Cart coming through!” He delivered me to the elevator/escalator area. The escalator takes you down one floor, you are then faced with a moving walkway that leads back to escalators that transport you back up one floor to the B Concourse. Who in the hell designed this madness? Whomever it was was definitely not thinking accessibility first.I walked and prayed down the corridor. I really couldn’t afford to miss this flight. When I made it to the counter I was out of breath. I was so happy to make out in the nick of time, NOT!! What saved me was my delayed flight. Because of the mechanical problem we were told to walk down a few more gates and catch a different plane which landed in an hour. So they decided to commandeer us a plane. I sent a quick text to my friend Molly and told her I would be late. She replied back, “I will be at the airport waiting. Welcome to Minnesota.” How sweet, I laughed out loud and the folks looked at me strangely. I sat and chatted with an active duty soldier headed home on emergency leave. We shared some military stories and I told him about my accident and we stopped talking shortly after we change gates. An hour later we boarded the plane and I sat next to a guy that lived in Minnesota. He told me hated Grandma’s marathon because he lives on a island. Interesting fact: The bridge is shut down for the marathon so they post a helicopter, a police car and and ambulance near by for emergencies. The gentleman behind us overheard us talking and asked if the guy if he was running the,marathon the man said no. I then replied I was and swapped seats with the lady next next to the marathoner to chat. We chatted about running and I learned that the marathoner was a part of an experiment and was unit one marathon a month. I was truly impressed with his story, he basically donated his body to science.
I made it to Duluth and Molly was so excited that she took me sightseeing.
I visited her college campus, Hawk Point and got great views of 7 bridges. She treated me to lunch at a Pizza Hut that was a sports bar, come to find out it is own by a Texan who resides in Texas still. The things you learn just by talking to strangers.
We visited the expo, briefly. I was a medium sized expo nothing large like NYC marathon or Boston. I was so excited I forget I needed to buy more Rock Tape or KT Tape to ensure I am in top notch shape for the marathon. We get to the hotel and are welcomed by balloons. At the Holiday Inn there was a hospitality suite and a massage center set upon the 4th floor.
Downstairs in the lobby there were more snacks for runners. We went upstairs and got changed for the 5k. They separated the packet pickup by 5k, half, marathon and challenge. They sold Grandma’s gear at the expo, nothing for 5ks. If you are staying at Holiday Inn downtown you can walk the tunnel to the expo and to the start of the 5k with ease no need to Uber.
It was her first 5k and I was happy to guide her, unfortunately neither of us knew that there would be terrain changes. We paid 5 dollars for parking and walked to the start line to take pictures. Because this is a mobility impaired aware marathon I thought there would be an mobility impaired start, but nope. I wrote to the race director and he said no handcycles, yet I saw one at the start of the 5k.
We were told to get to the back of the pack. I opted to stay mid pack because they said they were shutting the 5k down in 1 hour and 2 minutes and I was unsure how long it would take us. The terrain changes definitely slowed us down, but I has happy to see another lady with foot drop wearing Turbomed braces. she screamed out to me, “ How do you like your Turbomed braces?” I told her I loved them as I stopped to take photos of hers.
Molly and I ran and walked with Pacer-R-Chicken. I yelled at people, people yelled at us and we were like one big happy family cheering each other on down the course. We both wore signs to let people know that we had disabilities.
I like to make people aware that I have a disability so they don’t run between me and my guide. Of course they do it anyway sometimes they push through and almost knock me down. This day having the sign seemed to motivate others to cheer her on. We completed the 5k and headed to Grandma’s Restaurant for dinner.
We entered Grandma’s and the hostesses were wonderful. The waiter not so much. He introduced me to “Minnesota Nice” and my Uber driver on the way home explained that phenomena to me. Apparently they think there are nice, but they are not nice based on southern hospitality standards. Nonetheless there are a number of people I know from Minnesota that are nice by all standards; maybe they are transplants or implants. I don’t know, but I experienced not so nice this night. After dinner we took a bunch of pictures of me acting silly which seems to be the norm. We rushed back to ensure I purchased my pre race food Subway.
Race day came really quick with a night 5k and dinner. Molly gave me the Kerri Serota, “Happy RaceDay!” Greeting. I woke up at 5 to eat breakfast and get ready and to catch the shuttle between 5:45 and 6:15. Minnesota has these cool skywalks that connects to basically anywhere you need to go, today it was the DECC. There is a 40 minute ride to the start. As I boarded the bus I had a leg brace malfunction and grabbed a seat with a bearded guy. There I sat down and shared with him my story, I have no idea how we got talking, but we did. We exited the bus and parted ways. I stopped took a few pictures and met my guide Terri at the start.
We start the race and I am not in the best shape. My lower back hurts, my legs were burning, but I planned to claim this state and find that person that God had for me to hear my story on the course. We ran and walked and we moved down the course as a unit. She was my support person and she gave me the best support. Her husband at mile 3 had strangers cheering for us. Of course I had to stop and take a selfie with her hunny bunny.
The sun was bright and shined on me, which was not very kind. I was expecting overcast and maybe a little rain. Not today it was sunshine and beauty for miles. The weather was perfect 55 degrees, but it felt like 85 degrees with the UV rays baking me. I drank water and sipped water, sucked on ice, put ice in my clothing and I was still hot. I was still hot, I poured water over my head and I just couldn’t lower my core temperature.
Good thing I started the race before the 5:30 pacer. Around mile 15 was the first shot to head, the sag bus that had been patrolling the road searching for prey finally rolled next to me and my guide. We are still young in the game at this point, I was looking good, feeling good, playing music and talking. Driver asked if I was ok. Well to you that may seem courteous, but to a slower runner you are causing undo stress. I am thinking now. Am I moving to slow? Am I looking bad? I saw the bus had quite a few people on the bus, was it because they were too slow or did he punk them into believing they couldn’t make the time? I am not getting on a bus. I immediately started to think about the people behind me and how that could through a curve ball in their mental toughness. I can make this 7 hour cut off I told myself and suddenly got slower. My morale was already hanging on by a thread because I was in pain. I saw beautiful nature, but there was no energy for me on this course. I hadn’t reached Duluth where people would be out dressing in costumes. Little did I know that I would never see them either because I was back of the back and those people were long gone by the time we arrived on the scene. Most volunteers are up at O’dark thirty and they are tired and enjoy seeing the elites and faster runners.
They don’t always have time in their day to stick around for the slower the ones. Shortly there after I saw volunteers tearing water stations down and dumping ice on the ground. That does wonders for your morale too, that makes you feel so great knowing you have no support going forward. At this time I am at a 6 hour 20 minute pace on a 7 hour marathon course and slowing down drastically because I let someone get in my head. In my mind I am thinking I paid for support, where is my support? I let these variables bother me. At one point Terri was concerned because I had gotten dizzy and was wobbling trying to move forward. At 1:20 a race official on a motorcycle rode by and told us to move to the sidewalk they were opening the roads soon. Well according to the literature I read the roads were to open at 2pm. At that point I told my guide save yourself, I told her to leave me and run. If push came to shove I would get on the bus. I thought I was moving faster than I was, but I was just getting slower. She said she wasn’t going to leave me, so I continued on with her. I tried to distract myself as I do often on the course by calling out and trying to motivate others. Well these folks were Minnesota “Nice” and must have hit the “Minnesota Wall” they said nothing. They looked at me, but showed no emotions. Some of the people respond, but a large number didn’t. Civilians walking along the course sharing the sidewalk wouldn’t even respond when I said good morning. Of course it may have been because I was stinky, but what runner doesn’t smell a little? At this point I felt this was no ordinary Grandma. I had heard great things about her and I was not happy that there were cups of water on the ground for me to bend down and grab, I was not happy that a child offered me exposed ice from the ground. I was not happy that I hadn’t found that one person that I came all the way from Texas to find and share my testimony with.
I was happy to learn that my guide was a Cancer survivor and she inspired the heck out of me. I was happy that I was moving forward and the pain in my back was contained. I was happy that is was a beautiful day and I was alive to enjoy it. The ladies that were walking faster than I could run exited the sidewalk and hit the streets. I stayed on the sidewalk trying to follow rules. The streets never opened whi;e I was out there. However, I had to dodge the few spectators I saw because I was told to walk and run on the sidewalk. Eventually We had to hit the streets because there were storage and moving truck on the sidewalks. As At one point volunteers looking at us just commenced to pouring out thePowerade. How rude, I thought. You clearly see people coming. You must remember I started ahead of people and if people are going the same speed as I am they are definitely without support. I always have my 16 oz bottle of water on my person, I always have food and my personalized first aid kit on me so I am never without necessities. What about other folks on the course? Maybe this was their first marathon. It just would have been nice to have crowd support or ice in cups and water cups not on the ground from miles 18 to 21. By the time we were closer to the finish oh wow it looked like another marathon. It looked like the Grandma I came to visit, this step-grandma I came across earlier who was definitely an imposter. I picked up the pace as we brought it in the last 3 miles to the finish. While most rely on their training, I rely on God’s grace and the energy of those around me. As I finished the race, I took pictures. I was disappointed that the professional pictures were at the beginning of the races and closer to the finish.
A photographer at the half way point of back of the packers would have been nice. It would have given them a reason to smile. Smiling helps you to move forward too. I completed my 40th state at Grandma’s Marathons is an experience I will never forget. didn’t partake in the after party I just wasn’t feeling like socializing with folks that couldn’t acknowledge me on the course. I walked front the finish line back to my hotel. The DECC is near the finish and I knew my way back.
I returned to my room to find Molly had left a note. She had no idea she made my day, I needed a pick me up by the time I had gotten top me room.I took a shower and headed down to eat dinner in the hotel restaurant. It was a lovely meal.The next morning I caught an Uber and my driver was from Houston. He explained “Minnesota Nice” and I felt a bit better. I arrived to the airport TSA was closed. They opened exactly 45 minutes before the flight. Delta did not disappoint going home. I sat next to lady that works for the New York City Marathon we had a great conversation about our running journey and marathons. She actually said she saw me with Molly completing the 5k. She described our shirts and told me where she was. My heart was filled with happiness, we were one of the last people to cross the finish line on that 5k, but we finished within the time allotted unassisted. The motto of Dare2Tri is one that I hold dear, “One Inspires Many”.