Twin Cities Training – Lessons Learned

With a successful race under my belt, I always like to look back at my training.

I used the same plan (Less is More) that I did for Nike.Obviously I really like my training plan. It works for my body and I think it’s the primary reason I’ve gotten so much faster. Speed work does the trick! Not to mention, I came through training and the marathon healthy!

I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of specific training plan related things, but rather lessons learned this cycle.

1. Hills during training rock. For the first three months of training, I had some great hill workouts. Our temporary apartment was in a valley of hills which meant I ran up hill both ways during my runs. Once I got more involved with the running group and moved to Maple Grove, I did my long runs with the group at Elm Creek. The trail itself is paved with rolling hills. I really think the rolling hills combined with running in Minnetonka while in our apartment, made a huge difference in my ability to handle the hills during the race.

2. Talking during those long training runs really helps with respiratory fitness. Another benefit of training with the group, I got better at running and talking. To make sure we weren’t running too fast and frankly to keep the runs interesting, we chatted the entire time. As training continued, we found ourselves running 9 min/miles or under while talking. This meant when it came to race day and I wasn’t talking, I was hitting paces I wasn’t sure I would be able to for 90% of the marathon.

3. Caffeine and Alcohol do not agree with my stomach when I’m running for more than 90 minutes. As my runs got longer, I was having serious GI issues. I could not get through runs without stopping multiple times. First I tried cutting out booze for a few days before a run. Still having issues, so I cut out caffeine. I still had issues but not as bad. Once I cut all booze and caffeine for five days before my long runs, the problems stopped. Just to be extra safe, I didn’t have either for the two weeks prior to the marathon.

4. Gels should maintain your energy, not give you a boost. As my endurance increased, I found my need for fuel decreased. By the end of training I was able to run 10 miles without any gels or sports drinks. This wasn’t a goal of mine, but I do think it was beneficial as it helped me learn not to use gels for an energy boost but energy continuance. I never waited until I was tiring to take a gel. I took them at the same time during my runs whether I felt like I needed it or not.

Again, I stuck with what I knew gels wise. GU brand gels are the only ones I can stomach. I took the Salted Caramel, Chocolate Outrage, Vanilla and Peanut Butter Chocolate. As you can tell, I like it to taste somewhat like dessert.

5. You don’t have to hit the wall. For the first time ever, I didn’t hit the wall during the race. I never hit it during my long training runs either. I think this is for two reasons, I kept myself well hydrated and I figured out how to fuel my body. Pre-run, two pieces of peanut butter and jelly toast with water. During run, a gel every 7-8 miles (or every hour). After run, chocolate milk then whatever I’d normally eat.

6. Rethink that pre-race pasta dinner. Fearful of my stomach issues rearing their head on race day, I altered my strategy. While I ate a lot of carbs that week before the race, I didn’t go overboard. I needed to make sure I got in protein as well. I decided to have my big spaghetti dinner on Friday night, rather than the night before. I had leftovers for lunch on Saturday and then had a simple dinner of pork tenderloin, sweet potato and salad on Saturday night. On marathon day I didn’t feel overly bloated or full and no GI issues!

7. Cross-training makes me stronger. I have always sucked at cross-training when I’m training for a marathon. This time was different. I swam, did spin classes, walked a ton, did some weight lifting classes. I think all of these made me a much stronger runner.

8. Fall marathons are awesome! I’ve now run a spring, summer and two fall marathons. Fall marathons are hands down my favorite. The weather is great, the leaves are pretty and humidity is non-existent. Already looking for one to run next fall. I’m going to enter the lottery for Chicago, but want to have a backup considering I’ll likely not get into Chicago.

MedTronic Twin Cities Marathon – Race Recap

I’m walking without pain and have gone for my first post-race run which means that this recap is overdue. I’ll try to keep it a reasonable length. Honestly it seems so surreal. I know I did it but it seems as if it was just a great, though muscle soreness inducing dream.

The night before the marathon I was having so much anxiety I could not get myself to go to sleep. This was the first marathon I got to sleep in my own bed before. That came with some relief but also anxiety that I’d oversleep. Combine that with Anderson waking around midnight, I slept for about four hours. When my alarm went off at 4:30 am, I sprung out of bed. I went downstairs, threw some bread in the toaster and triple checked that my Garmin actually had fully charged overnight.

I sat down to eat my toast while I watched the conclusion of Spirit of the Marathon: Rome. I was lucky, my body worked with me – one less thing to worry about once I got to the starting line. About 5:30 Anderson woke up. I nursed him, finished getting dressed and hopped in the car. My wonderful husband drove my friend Hazel and me to the starting line.

Starting Line

We checked Hazel’s bag, hit the porta-potties and eventually split up into our respective corrals. I talked to some nice people as we waited to start the race. Just before my corral was about to start, I found my running BFF Amy. I was so excited! We hugged each other and squealed with excitement. Squeals over, it was go time. My goal was to not go out too fast.

First 5k

The first two miles flew by. In fact when I saw the Mile 2 flags I commented that I thought we were only a mile in. I must have been so distracted by the beautiful church bells that I missed the first mile marker. After a relatively slow first mile, Amy and I hit our stride, still running side by side. We passed the 5k point at 27:06 (8:44 min/mile avg). At this point we were almost right with the 3:45 pacer.

Second 5k

Again, this portion of the race flew by. There were a ton of turns in the first 10k. By the mile six marker, I was about a tenth of a mile ahead of the mile markers. I was trying to work the tangents, but it was really hard. I was close enough to the 3:45 pacer that I could see him but unlike at Nike, I decided I was not going to push to stick with a pacer. I was going to run my race. I hit the 10k mark at 53:39 (8:38 min/mile avg). It was right around this point where I lost Amy in the crowd. We agreed that while it would be fun to run together, but we should run our own races. I was sad to lose her but was feeling so good!

Miles 7-13.1

Honestly it’s kind of a blur. There were tons of spectators. Some of the roads got so narrow that it was almost like running through a tunnel of people cheering. I was still feeling great and keeping my pace in the 8:30 range. I took a my first gel just past mile seven. Like with my training I was aiming to take a gel every seven miles. With my pace it was every hour.

I was approaching mile 12 when Josh and my mom called. They told me that they were going to be at the top of the little hill near mile 14. I think I got a little pep in my step knowing I was going to see them soon. Surprisingly, I was hitting negative splits, very slight negatives, but negatives nonetheless. Half marathon point 1:52:34 (8:35 min/mile avg).

Miles 14-18

I was just finishing my second gel when I turned a corner and spotted my family. I was so excited to see them. I started waving wildly with a huge grin on my face.


I was tempted to stop to give them hugs and kisses, but decided I didn’t want to lose my momentum. The course flattened out with some slight downhills in this stretch. I was running comfortably but was trying to conserve some energy as I new the longest hill of the course was just around the corner, as was the dreaded wall – or so I thought. 30k time – 2:40:03 (8:35 mile/mile avg)

Miles 19-22

The start of the hill. The hill that wasn’t so bad on our training run but felt a bit more difficult during the race. A lot of people started to walk. People who live in the beautiful houses lining the street were out roasting marshmallows and blaring music. I was waiting for the wall to hit as I ran under a big blow up ‘wall’ and took my third gel. These miles have consistently been difficult for me during my previous marathons.

I started thinking about walking. I was debating with myself if I needed to walk or just wanted to. I just wanted to. I pushed past the desire because Josh called saying they were just past the water stop at mile 23. I also started calculating potential finish times. I hit Mile 21 at 3:01:24 (8:38 min/mile avg). I knew unless something terrible happened, I beat my 4:11:53 PR and that I was likely going to go sub-4. That was added motivation to keep it up.

Miles 23-25

Fourth and final gel down, I finished the water in my Fuel Belt. When I spotted my family, again, I had a goofy smile on my face.


I undid my Fuel Belt and tossed it to them. Now empty, I just didn’t want to wear it any more. Somehow I still hadn’t hit the wall. I was thankful but still waiting to bonk. My IT bands did make their presence known. They really seized up. I decided that I’d walk through the rest of the water stops to loosen them. It worked well. It slowed my pace but I didn’t really care because I’d hit the 24th mile at 3:30:07 (8:45 min/mile avg) and calculated that if I slowed to a 10 min pace, I’d still finish around 3:53-3:55.

The Final 1.2 Miles

With just over a mile to go, I realized the wall wasn’t coming. I had done something right, because I never felt like crying. I never wanted to quit and never said that I would never run another marathon.

My IT bands were still yelling at me, but I couldn’t walk in the last mile. The bells of the Cathedral starting ringing as I spotted it’s dome. I knew once I turned the corner and approached the cathedral, it was downhill to the finish in front of the capital building. It was about the time I saw the finish line that I started getting emotional. I looked down at my watch and it said 3:48. I could not believe it. I decided to pick it up as much as I could. I thought I might just be able to hit 3:50.

I started moving my arms faster, willing my legs to move. I knew I was 8 minutes behind the clock time. The clock read 3:58:XX. I raised my arm, fist pumping as I crossed the finish line, ecstatic that I just ran an amazing race.

Jess Finishing TCM

Official Finish Time: 3:50:28      Avg. Pace: 8:48 min/mile

Detailed results

Of course, as soon as I stopped running, my body stiffened. I got my medal, space blanket, and took my finishers picture before calling Josh.

Finisher picture

I was all choked up as I spit out that I did it. I blew my old PR out of the water, I not only finished sub-4, I finished 9:35 minutes under four hours. I had cut 21:35 off of my previous personal record.

I kept walking to get my finisher’s shirt and found a spot on the grass to stretch. Getting up was ROUGH. It took me a good 10-15 minutes to get myself up and over to the family meetup area. I was greeted with big hugs and Ella telling me she was proud of me. That got me. Anderson was also excited to see me, mainly because he was ready to eat.


Family post-race

Comfy shoes

With my warm sweatshirt and slippers on, I was ready to head home. Of course as soon as we got into the car Ella decided she had to pee. We stopped at the McDonalds we were passing where my mom picked me up a Coke and some fries. I needed some salt. It was very satisfying.

I was sore, but still feeling amazing. I think I had the ultimate runner’s high. When I got home I put fed Anderson again and got him down for his nap so that I could hobble to the hot tub.

Post-race relaxation

I tried to nap but could not fall asleep. I think all the caffeine from the gels and the Coke threw my body for a loop. Once the kids were up we went out for some Mexican food. My mom stopped at the store to pick up some ice cream. She went a bit overboard…

ice cream

We’re still enjoying it!

I’m already thinking about what marathon I want to do next. I really love fall marathons. Maybe in two more years I’ll be able to cut 15 more minutes off my time and qualify for Boston. A girl can dream.

The Days Before the Race

I’m working on my post about the race, but I’m going to back up a bit to the days before the race. It was a whirlwind of a weekend! Are you ready for a ridiculously long post?

My mom flew in on Friday morning for her first visit to our new house. She really enjoys watching me torture myself by running marathons too! After we picked her up we grabbed some breakfast at The Buttered Tin in St. Paul. Because Nana was in town, Ella got to feast on a cinnamon roll.


After breakfast we hit the science museum to kill some time before the expo opened. The kids love the museum.

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Right at noon we were at the doors of the expo. It was then that it hit me I was running a marathon in a few days. It may sound silly, but even after all these months of training, it just seemed like this distant event that was going to happen eventually, but not necessarily soon. The expo was a total cluster mainly because they had so many events happening that weekend. In addition to the marathon there was a 10 miler, 10k, 5k, Family Mile, Toddler Trot and Diaper Dash. After getting my bib I grabbed Josh’s for the 10k and Ella’s for her first Toddler Trot. She was so excited.



I picked up my gels, a few samples and headed home so we could try to nap. Unfortunately I was unable to nap, but even laying on the couch seemed to help. After a big spaghetti dinner and putting the kids to sleep, Mom, Josh and I hung out talking for a while before going to bed.

Saturday morning Josh left early to go do his 10k. He was very relieved when the race organizers gave him a new bib after forgetting his at home. He did amazing, especially since he didn’t train at all. He finished in 42:47 (6:50 pace!), putting him eighth in his age group and 61st overall. He hung around down by the capital building until we met him for Ella’s race.

Ella was initially really excited for her race, but then had a minor meltdown as we tried to get out the door.


Once we were there, she was all about it! She ran her little heart out and got a medal at the end.


I got a great nap in Saturday afternoon. The cold I had been fighting all week was rearing it’s ugly head and I was feeling tired, achy and grumpy. I felt much better after some sleep. I was having some major prerace jitters and didn’t end up eating too much of the pork tenderloin and sweet potatoes I’d requested for dinner. I decided to mix up my eating strategy. More on that later. After we got the kids down, we watched part of Spirit of the Marathon: Rome as I got all my stuff together.


At 11pm I was still wired but made myself go to bed.

Six Days Out

I’ve started stalking the weather forecast, over analyzing every twinge and ache, and every sneeze. Yep, with less than a week to go I’m in full-blown taper mode, panic and all. This week I’m trying to focus on how strong my training has been rather than how I felt heavy and slow on the 10 mile run I did on Saturday morning.

Over the past sixteen weeks I’ve run nearly 600 miles. I run before the sun came up and late into the night. I hit intervals and tempo ran my heart out. When I look back at my training I know that I’m ready. I put in the hard work. I ran the distance and ran it strong. The only things in my way are my nerves and this cold that’s trying to creep in.

Starting today I’m taking it easy. I have only two more runs to do before race day, a 30 min and 20 min. Easy. I’m going to have a hard time limiting myself to these short runs. It’s been ages since I’ve run such short runs. I’m thinking about swimming at some point this week just to do a little low impact cross-training to keep everything loose.

I’m also hydrating, which I find a lot more difficult when I’m not sitting at a desk all day. I bought some Gatorade a few weeks back and it did my stomach no favors. I’m sticking to water with some Nuuns thrown in for fun.

Now I’m thinking and overthinking my race strategy. Top of mind:

1. Do I want to wear my fuel belt or not? I trained with it only when necessary because we had water at various spots on our trails. I hate wearing it but I hate being slowed down at water stops. Plus it’s nice to fuel when I want.

2. Pacing. Now most of my long runs were between 8:40-9:00 min/mile average pace. That was conversation pace but excluding water and bathroom breaks. This leads me to question what I can run not talking, but without breaks. Hopefully I will not need the porta-potties and I definitely will not be chatting. I have two pacer options in my corral 3:45 and 4:00.

I learned running Nike that running with the pacers isn’t always the best thing. I added almost a mile to my distance and wore myself out trying to keep up with the pacer in San Francisco. It was not worth it. I think that I’ll line up in between the two, trying to keep the 3:45 pacer in my sight line, but not worry about running with them.

3. Goals. I have a few goals for this race. First, finishing strong and healthy. Second, finish under 4:11 which is my current PR. Third and the one giving me anxiety thanks to pressure I’m putting on myself, finish sub-4. A 3:55 marathon would be an 8:57 average pace. If I look back at my training it’s doable, but then the above mentioned concerns come in.

Now I just need to make a new playlist to have just in case I feel like I need a little pick me up during the race. I’d love some suggestions.