An awkward post-race photo is just another layer to a crazy-good weekend up in Duluth with John Sharkman. We will try to breeze through some of the highlights bullet style:
*Stopped at the Black Bear Casino about 20 miles from Duluth on our way up Friday mainly because a 16-ounce coffee and a 32-ounce Gatorade (have to stay hydrated) start to get a mind of their own after a while. But as long as you're in a casino ... you might as well sit down. We plopped down at an empty $10 black jack table and started getting immediate 19s and 20s from a dealer who kept intentionally talking like a pirate. Sharkman was getting more 13s and 14s, but he was fending the dealer off thanks to some timely bet increases. A third guy joined the table, which sometimes changes the dynamic but in this case only enhanced things. Sharkman stepped away for one hand; we nailed 21 on a double down and the other guy made black jack; Sharkman came back and things kept gradually rolling. After about 20 minutes and a shoe-and-a-half, the two of us were up $110 combined and made the very mature decision to leave. Nothing sets the tone for a weekend like turning a casino into an ATM, even if it's just for a little walking around money. It rarely happens, but it is a beautiful thing.
*Arrival Friday in time for a late lunch of burgers, fries and Spotted Cows at the Anchor Bar in Superior -- the traditional feast of those preparing to run 26.2 miles. We chatted up three former UMD students who were back in town just to party for the weekend, and Sharkman re-invested some of his casino winnings into picking up their tab. Have to pay it forward. Also grabbed some Spotted Cow for the room fridge. Have to stay hydrated.
*Check in at the hotel, then a quick departure to go pick up race packets. As we are about to leave the room, we grabbed the remote to turn off the TV (US Open). Sharkman was already halfway out the door, but he turned and yelped, "No, no, no, what are you doing?" Apparently he likes to leave the TV on when he leaves the room. "Less chance of a break-in and you know if the TV is off someone has been in the room" -- which like most Sharkman-isms contains about 40 percent truth, 30 percent paranoia and a sliding scale for the rest. "It's my one quirk," Sharkman said, which would become a running joke throughout the weekend.
*Dinner around 8 at Pizza Luce with a crew featuring Sharkman, @Runlikeam0ther and @jmetzdorff. Good times and good race fuel, as we would find out later when Runlikeam0ther blazed through the half-marathon in 1:46:02, getting stronger as the competition got more fierce -- just like her husband, Twins pitcher Glen. If a 5K is more your speed, by the way: Check this out.
*A little more pre-race carb-loading as we scooped up @MikeyWaldo, who follows us and Sharkman on Twitter. He lives in the basement of a church, he enjoys drinking beer and he seemed strangely mesmerized as we sat at the bar and hammered away alternately between conversation and Twitter. We left a little after 11, just before things could have gotten ugly with the Bushmills promotion. Two young ladies dressed like game show hosts gave us an electric shock in order to win a hat and then tried to get us to do a shot. We didn't want to be rude, so we at least had a sip. Have to stay hydrated.
*Race morning: Nothing can spook you more in a distance race than the loooong shuttle ride from Duluth to the starting line near Two Harbors. All you can do is think, "This is how far we all have to run." But the time comes, and the adrenaline starts, and then it's just running and running and running. We did the first 12 miles with Sharkman, but we were both there for different reasons. He was a last-minute entrant and was running it without much training. He just wanted to see if he could finish and wanted to live-tweet the entire race. We had trained for it and were trying to break 4 hours for the first time (this was our third marathon). In short: We were both there for a good time, but in a much different way. So we diverted near the halfway point, and it really couldn't have worked out better. We churned out a negative split over the final half to finish in around 3:59 -- fitting in a radio interview just before mile 22, by the way -- while Sharkman finished while unleashing a fury on the #SharkTrek hashtag we had conceived the night before. Epic. Win-win. Nothing more to say, really.
*Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Hunger. We spent $25 between us at Erbert and Gerbert's. Walk to the bar where we left our credit card the night before. Then back to the room for Spotted Cow, ibuprofen and glorious naps.
*Wake up. Hungry again. Time to leave the hotel and get dinner -- TV on, one quirk. We order the most food imaginable and eat nearly all of it: split order of chicken wings, a Caesar salad with bread, half a rack of ribs, a quarter chicken, baked beans, mashed potatoes and corn bread. There are multiple issues with Sharkman's prime rib (not his fault at all), but it is all handled very professionally, which might be the biggest upset of the entire weekend.
*Celebratory beverage with @bernardjim, who qualified for Boston with an outstanding run Saturday, followed by a trip back in time to Grandma's in Canal Park. We were much too old for that place, but it was where the energy was. We saw two girls arguing (one girl crying) about something only 22-year-olds could understand. We saw active makeouts on the dance floor. We saw heads buried in hands. It was like a war zone with a Carly Rae Jepsen soundtrack. After reaching our limit of so many things, we made a late night stop at Luce, where we received NUMEROUS updates on when beers would be cleared from tables, each less helpful than the previous one. It's a college town, though, and we suppose we understand that there need to be boundaries when it comes to staying hydrated.
*Walk back to hotel and then a complete collapse on the bed. A third consecutive strange night of dreaming we were still in a foreign country (seriously, our body clock STILL isn't adjusted from Ireland). General soreness of the parts, which still exists this morning. A drive home and a sedentary Sunday. And now it's back to reality.