It seems like summer weather arrived early this year in Atlanta. So when I learned that Norman Black (my group director at UPS) was training for a June marathon, I was amazed. But Norman was celebrating a special occasion. To commemorate his daughter Ellen’s graduation from college, he and Ellen decided to run a marathon together – the first one that either of them had run. They choose Grandma’s Marathon which took place on June 19 in Duluth, Minnesota. I sat down with Norman to learn more about his experience and how he survived long runs during Atlanta’s heat wave.
Q. Norman, when did you start training?
I began in January. Ellen recommended that I extend the amount of time I spent on my weekend runs. In March, I decided to take a different approach and signed up for Jeff Galloway’s program. Since it was my first marathon, the run-walk regime that Galloway teaches seemed like a good option for me.
Q. What did you learn from Jeff Galloway’s program?
Galloway believes that first-time marathoners use too much energy during the first half of the race. So, they end up struggling to complete those last miles of the event. By adding walk breaks throughout the run, it helps marathoners to better manage their overall pace and energy level.
Q. Why did you choose Grandma’s as your first marathon?
When my daughter and I decided to celebrate her graduation by running a marathon, we knew we needed to pick a race in a cooler climate. Grandma’s had a great reputation as a well-organized and friendly event. The race course runs along the shore of Lake Superior and the old scenic highway – it was really beautiful.
Q. The hot weather hit Atlanta in early May. How did you “beat the heat” during your training runs?
Unfortunately, I couldn’t escape it. I’m not a morning person – I’d get up around 6 or 7 a.m. to start my long runs. By mid-morning, the heat became unbearable and I was forced to cut short some of my planned runs. While I had hoped to complete a training run of 24 miles before the race, the longest run I was able to complete was 20 miles.
Q. How was the race? Did Grandma’s live up to your expectations?
The event was terrific. The folks in Duluth went all out to welcome runners. The community hosted a pasta dinner the night before the race. During the marathon, bands and spectators were lined up along the course to cheer on the runners. And at the finish line, there was a big party to celebrate the end of the race.
My goal was to complete the race in 5 hours. My daughter and I followed the Galloway program during the first half of the event. Around mile 14, we came across a 5-hour pace group and decided to join them. The pace leader did a great job keeping everyone together and encouraging the runners. And I met my goal with a finish time of 4 hours and 57 minutes.
Q. What was the hardest part of the race?
The last 6 miles -- I was mentally and physically exhausted. My daughter kept reminding me that I’d run dozens of 10K races, so I should think of the last 6 miles as just another 10K. If it wasn’t for Ellen’s encouragement, I don’t know if I could have made it.
Q. So, what did you learn from your first marathon experience?
A few things. I’ve gained a lot of respect for people who run this distance. Not only is it physically demanding, it also requires tremendous mental determination to complete the race.
I also came to appreciate the importance of training with other people. I did most of my long runs by myself. When Ellen and I did get a chance to train together, I realized how beneficial it was to have someone to talk with and help you maintain a pace.
Q. What is your favorite memory from the race?
The sense of accomplishment I felt. My daughter and I achieved this together and I will always cherish that memory.
Q. Will you run another marathon?
At this time, I have no plans to sign-up for another marathon. However, if my daughter has a say, then it’s possible there could be more marathons in my future.