On April 27, 2019, my husband and I ran in the 30th Annual Fitger’s 5K Race. I had been struggling with my running for the past several years, since taking tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer recurrence. I have been working very hard to improve. This race was a test for myself. Here is that story.
We drove to Duluth for the race
We drove down to Duluth, MN the Friday before the race. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and we had the open road before us. It is a 4 hour drive from Thunder Bay. We grabbed our takeout coffee and headed south to the USA border. It is nice to get away from it all, if only for two days.
We stopped for coffee in Grand Marais, MN
Our first stop was at the Java Moose in Grand Marias, MN. In full cafe style, they have a variety of coffees, cappuccinos, lattes, teas and treats. They serve this among a fabulous northern hospitality rustic atmosphere. Java Moose is THE place to stop when you travel along this part of the highway.
Grand Marais itself is a quaint little place. The town hosts tourists during both winter and summer. It provides multiple outdoor opportunities, including skiing, snowmobiling, mountain biking, hiking, and camping to name only a few. There is another fabulous run in Grand Marais in June called Voyager North. It boosts a challenging hill run of either 5 or 10 km. My husband and I did this run last year. It was a hoot, so much fun.
A little mishap damaged our car’s windshield
After picking up coffee at the Java Moose, we headed out for Duluth again. About a half an hour down the road a large truck sped by us and kicked up a small rock. It went hurdling towards our vehicle at top speed to land directly on the drivers side windshield. There was a instant crack that looked like a spider web. We knew this wasn’t going to be salvageable and we were right. As we kept driving, the spiderweb-like crack started to spread across the windshield. I have never seen it happen so fast. Needless to say, windshield replacement will be a top priority.
Second stop along the route at Gooseberry Falls, MN
After driving for about 3 hours, our legs needed a stretch. We stopped at Gooseberry Falls State Park and walked out to the falls. It was a cool evening, so we didn’t stay long. The view of the falls was well worth the stop.
We arrived in Duluth Friday evening
We arrived in Duluth just after 6:00 pm, too late to pick up our race packets. The race coordinators also had arranged for packet pick up early the next morning on race day, so we weren’t worried. We registered and settled into our room at the Fitger’s Inn Hotel.
The Fitger’s Inn is a beautiful hotel with friendly staff
What a beautiful hotel. The hotel is a part of the Fitger’s Brewery Complex that was build in 1984.
The Brewery itself is over 100 years old. The Brewery closed during Prohibition and was reopened in the 1930s. It closed again in 1972, and reopened as the Fitger’s Brewhouse when the Brewery Complex opened its doors. Handcrafted beers are brewed on a smaller scale now and served in the restaurants and sold in the shop in the Brewery Complex.
The hotel is decorated with many of the old brewery equipment and styles. It has an old-fashioned atmosphere, using many of the furnishings of the original brewery. The staff door is an old vault door. The front desk is an old ornate cashier cage. Wood trim and banisters line the hallways and rooms. The rooms are decorated in a comforting and timeless fashion.
We didn’t have to leave the Fitger’s Complex
The Fitger’s Brewery Complex is all inclusive. We love that we can park our vehicle in the parkade and leave it there for the duration of our stay. The hotel is there. There are restaurants and shops. The race start and finish is right outside the front door of the hotel. We can walk down to Canal Park and explore along the river walk. It is a great place to spend a weekend. We love this little mini-vacation and look forward to it every year.
We were too tired to go out for dinner Friday night
Tired from the busy day earlier and the drive down, we just ordered take out burgers from the Fitger’s Brewhouse restaurant. The Brewhouse Burgers were a massive 1/2 pound of ground beef, deliciously seasoned. The plating was simple, there were no lettuce, tomato, condiments or sauces. But that didn’t matter, the simple dressings of just bbq sauce, bacon, cheese and onion was deliciously perfect. We were ravenous and inhaled our burgers.
I had a restless sleep that night
I fell asleep right away. But then I woke up at about 1:30 am. My mind was racing about a million different things and I couldn’t get it to stop. Some of the ramblings in my mind were about the race. I had a time goal in mind. I wanted to get as close to 32:30 as possible. That is a 10:30/mile pace. It wasn’t a personal best, but it would tell me that I am improving.
I want to be a better runner than I was in 2015, before Tamoxifen. That drug wrecked my running abilities. I blogged about that experience. I have struggled since. Finally, this year, I feel stronger and hoped I have overcome my weaknesses both physically and mentally since Tamoxifen. I wanted to prove that to myself here at Fitger’s in the morning.
I fell asleep again just after 5:00 am, reciting 32:30 in my head over and over again.
Race day morning started early
Having had little sleep that night, I was pretty groggy and grumpy when the alarm went off at 6:30am. I hit the snooze button a few times before bringing myself to a point where I could actually get up out of bed.
We made our way to the Brewery Complex to pick up our race kits. There was a sweet young girl, maybe around 8 or 9 years of age, helping us at the kit pick up. She was so eager to help. She looked up our names and handed us our race bibs with a smile.
Fitger’s 5K is a charity run
The Fitger’s 5K is a charity run to help the Young Athletes Foundation. It was developed to help young athletes grow. It helps support nonprofit youth athletic organizations. The goal of this foundation is to promote healthy lifestyles for children. It also hosts free races for children under 14 years of age. These six races, held during the summer months, attract approximately 500 children each race.
The complimentary breakfast
After picking up our race kit, we headed down to the Boat House Restaurant for our complementary continental breakfast included in our hotel stay. We both had our traditional race morning breakfast of a banana, oatmeal and coffee. The free breakfast isn’t spectacular. It’s pretty basic. But, it provided us with exactly what we usually eat before a race.
We needed our coffee
Coffee is an essential component of a pre-race breakfast for us. A few years ago, we missed out on the coffee before the Grandmas Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. That race didn’t go well for either my husband or I. Needless to say, we haven’t missed out on coffee since. It’s an important part of our pre-race ritual.
Dressing for the weather was challenging
The temperatures were predicted to be just above freezing for the race. That is a difficult temperature to dress for. You never know how many layers, because there are many factors like wind, pace, pre-race start waits, etc. But both my husband and I decided to go with less layers versus more clothes. We were racing, so our bodies would heat up quickly and run hot for the duration. Our hotel was right there so we could go inside and put on warmer clothes once we finished. We both had on shorts with compression socks, so only our knees were bare. On top we had on two thin layers, one was a long sleeve. The result turned out perfect, as both of us were comfortable during the race. It was cool at the start line though.
Wave starts for a 5K race
My husband is a fast runner. After doing his pre-race shakeout run, he positioned himself in the first wave corral, slightly behind the elites. I headed back to the second wave corral and positioned myself in between the 10:00/mile and 11:00/mile pace markers. Positioning properly at the start makes a difference, but not everyone knows or follows the rules.
Proper runner positioning is important
People will sometimes position themselves ahead in the corrals. This may be because they are new to racing and don’t really understand the system. They may not know their own pace. They may overestimate their capabilities. Or they may simply want to start with the faster runners.
But what ends up happening, is that people who have positioned themselves properly have to weave in between those runners who are slower than they are positioned for. This wastes energy. If you are going for a personal best time, it can make or break your success. Yes, racing should be fun and it shouldn’t matter. But it does. So, positioning properly at the start line matters tremendously.
I was positioned perfectly for my pace and finishing time. Yet, I had to run around and weave through many slower runners and even some walkers.
I sincerely appreciate the race organizers setting up waves and corrals. It is rare in 5 km races, but it does help those of us with goal finishing times in our heads. The Fitger’s 5 km is very well organized, but there were a number of runners in wave 2, and even wave 1, who were walking before the first mile marker.
There were almost 2000 runners in this race. The first part of the race was pretty congested.
It is too easy to start running at a fast pace
It is hard to pace yourself in a race. Pacing comes over time and with experience. Getting caught up in the excitement at the beginning can send you out running too fast. I was determined to not let this happen, although my first mile was a bit on the fast side. In my defense, I was weaving in and out of runners trying to find a spot where I could just settle into a steady 10:30/mile pace. I found that spot at about the 3/4 mile mark.
Approaching the infamous Lemon Drop Hill
I was running along at my set pace happily. Then I saw it. The back side of Lemon Drop Hill.
Lemon Drop Hill is the big hill at the overpass in the Grandmas Marathon. They call it Lemon Drop after a local restaurant that is no longer there. But it is an appropriate name, because it determines which runners have done their training and which runners have not. The term “lemon” refers to those runners who have not trained for the hill. The “drop” part of the name infers it all. It is a tough climb nearing the end of the Grandmas Marathon or even the half marathon. And when you are racing to your maximum, like I was, that hill was daunting.
During my approach to the hill, I was able to give myself time to mentally gear up to challenge it. I kept telling myself “just get to the top, then it is all down hill” , “once this hill is done, you can gain back your speed on the down hill” and ” all down hill after this hill” .
I lied to myself.
This was not the Fitger’s 5K race I knew and loved
The race route had changed from the years before. I ran the 2018 race and it was fast. It started down hill, went flat for most and then there was a short uphill climb to the finish. I wasn’t running well last year, but I was tremendously happy with my time then. So this thought was stuck in my head. It was why I kept thinking that there was only one hill and that once I got to the top, I could let loose for the remainder of the run and sail into the finish with a personal best time.
I was wrong!
The 2019 Fitger’s 5K route was hillier than previous years
The race course this year had changed due to construction along the previous years route. Although I knew the route and was familiar with the area, I didn’t have an elevation chart to mentally prepare me for what was coming. I was running all out to tackle Lemon Drop Hill. I had little left at the top and was ever so thankful when that initial incline was over.
A hairpin turn found us running back down Lemon Drop Hill and I started to focus on recovering my breathing and my legs.
The Fitger’s 5K course turned off towards Lake Superior
Then the course turned off at 20th Avenue, still following a decline slope. It flattened out again while we ran along the waterside. There were nice views of Lake Superior and the Duluth Bridge. I tried to snap a few pictures as I was running. It was a comical task, but I did manage to get one good picture.
Then we turned another corner at 15th Avenue. And there before me was a rather steep incline back to London Road. I was not prepared for this. I had “down hill the rest of the way back” stuck in my head. But I sucked it up, sighed, pulled up my big girl shorts and ran up that hill. I looked at my watch. Surprised by my renewed effort, I was able to keep my pace up that hill. “Okay, NOW it is down hill on the way back”, I thought.
I was so busy weaving in an out of runners at the beginning section of the race, I didn’t really notice we went down onto London Road. Which meant, now, I had to go UP London Road to Superior Street.
I was a bit deflated when I saw that there was yet another hill. I train on hills and enjoy the challenge of running them. But I was running all out and I was not mentally prepared for another hill on this course. But I pumped my arms, I worked my butt and quads and I made it up that final hill at my current race pace.
There was still hope for my goal time
I looked at my watch. “I can still make it” I screamed in my head. “Pick it up, girl. You got this” I said. That last hill took its toll on my legs. They were starting to tire. I mustered up the last bit I had and picked up my pace headed for the finish line.
I could now see the finish line
When it was within sight, I glanced at my watch again. “Damn, I am doing it!” I said. I tried to pick it up to get the best time that I could, but my legs were feeling a little wobbly now.
“Don’t trip. Whatever you do, do not fall!“, I said to myself.
Unable to pick up the pace much at this point, I was resigned to just maintain my current pace.
I crossed the finish line with a time of 32:30
Amazing! My Fitger’s 5K finishing time was bang-on the time I wanted. Not a second faster. Not a second slower. Maybe my inner chanting in the middle of the night worked? I was very happy with that time.
My husband was there to greet me at the finish. He was happy with his time too. I was still trying to catch my breath when he told me that he broke the 20 minute mark, something he has been wanting to do for some time now.
My husband finished with a time of 19:44
Not bad for an old man! He ended up winning first in his age category (50-54). I was so tremendously happy for him. It was a proud wife moment to watch him receive his award! He works so hard in his training, pushing himself to improve. He deserved to win.
The 2019 Fitger’s 5K was a successful run for both of us.
We were elated and happy with our runs. And we were now both tired and hungry.
We went out for lunch before heading back to Thunder Bay. Most of the afternoon and evening were left to explore. We were not in a hurry to get home. We made the most of it by stopping along the way to visit the Split Rock Lighthouse and hike the trails at Temperance River State Park. It was a fun day.
The coast of Lake Superior is so beautiful. I highly recommend visiting sometime.
I hope you enjoyed my story. Be sure to sign up for the pinkribbonrunner.com newsletter so that you don’t miss any of the adventures.