Sean's Running Blog

Grandma's Marathon

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Member Since:

Feb 24, 2007



Goal Type:

Local Elite

Running Accomplishments:

  • 2011 Boston Marathon -- 2:27 (Top 50)
  • 2011 Steilacoom 20k -- 1:04:57 (1st)
  • 2010 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon -- 2:26 (7th) 
  • 2010 Fall City 10k -- 31:06 (1st)
  • 2009 Indy Mini Marathon -- 1:07:53 (7th)
  • 2009 WWU Invitational -- 10000m (30:58)
  • 2009 UW Indoor Meet -- 5000m (14:49)
  • 2008 Orem Turkey Run -4 miler -- 19:55 (1st)
  • 2008 Seafair Torchlight 8k--25:03 (3rd) 
  • 2008 Time to Fly 5k -- 15:35 (1st)
  • 2008 Newport Marathon -- 2:22:47 (1st)
  • Steilacoom 15M--1:18:30 (1st)
  • 2007 Olympic Trials -- 2:30:41 (91st)
  • 2007 St. George --2:18:55 (3rd)

Short-Term Running Goals:

  • Feb 23 -- Ft Steilacoom 15M
  • March 23  – Ft. Steilacoom 20k
  • April 15  – Boston Marathon
  • June 8 – Sound to Narrows 12k
  • June 22  – Grandma’s Half Marathon (USATF Champs.)
  • July 7 – Run of the Mill 5k
  • July 27 – Torchlight 8k
  • September – SJJ Half (maybe)
  • October/November – Fall Marathon (maybe)
  • December – Club XC Nationals

Long-Term Running Goals:

 Stay healthy


Ran track my junior and senior years in high school and cross country my senior year. Went to BYU but did not run. Served LDS church mission to San Bernardino, CA. Started running again in April 2005. Marathon debut was St. George in 2005.

I coach the Mount Si High School Track Team (distance)

Been married for almost 17 years. My wife, Mara, and I have four kids ages 16, 14, 13 and 11.

Miles:This week: 0.00 Month: 0.00 Year: 0.00
Brooks T5 Lifetime Miles: 34.00
Ravenna Lifetime Miles: 250.00
Race: Grandma's Marathon (19.69 Miles) 01:51:43
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance


I promised myself two summers ago after running the only other marathon I have dropped out of that I would never run another summer marathon.

My hotel was at Mile 22. When I woke up this morning at 5:00am, the temperature read 68 degrees. Skies were crystal clear. I knew right then that Plan B was a very likely result. So much for the predicted morning fog and mid 50s temperature.

At the starting line, the Red Flag was up which indicates the highest level of a heat advisory. Nice. Temp at the 7:30 start was already 70 degrees with humidity in the 80% range and the wind was a quartering headwind. As we watched the wheelchair racers take off, I was sweating just standing there.

For the first mile there must have been a pack of 50-60 people...mostly Kenyans. It was a nice wind shield. Everyone was going out conservativley. First mile was in 5:22. The front guys were maybe 2 or 3 seconds ahead of that. So very conservative. It was at this point I threw off my 2:19 wristband. Yep. Plan B which was basically, run a respectable 5:25 pace or so and see how I felt halfway. My dad was there to cheer me on.

Mile 2 -- 5:26 -- Felt fine but was already very thirsty. Lips and mouth were dry. I was actually excited to get to Mile 3 and get my water bottle. Still a pretty large pack of as at this point but the lead pack had put about a 10 second gap on us.

Mile 3 -- 5:24 -- Still feeling OK but very uncertain about what lie ahead. Grandma's has learned a few things over the years. They actually put the mile markers either well before or well after the water stations so that people can get their splits and their water. Grabbed my special concoction of Nuun Water and gulped down all 8 ounces. This was big.

Mile 4 -- 5:28 -- Dropped a little bit of pace but at this point I was not bothered. There was a pack of about 5-6 of us that had settled in to this 5:25ish pace and were happy to see that through to as far as we could. The lead pack of about 20-25 was well ahead of us now, probably 30-45 seconds. There was a group of three guys between us and the lead pack which included MN native Chris Lundstrom a 2:17 guy.

Mile 5 -- 5:24 -- Another much anticipated water station. Threw down 8 ounces of Gatorade. Felt good. Tasted strong. I was replacing fluids quite well.

Mile 6 -- 5:23 -- This was the first point I seriously considered dropping out. My head was not cooling off. the humidity, heat and wind were weakening me quickly. I'm simply not used to this kind of weather and there really isn't a way for me to prepare for it which is why I try to avoid it in the first place. My feet were sloshing in sweat-soaked shoes already. But I carried on. Our pack was now four guys.

Mile 7 -- 5:25 -- While I was still on Plan B pace, each mile was taking more effort just to maintain 5:25s. Got another bottle of Nuun Water and downed all of it.

Mile 8 -- 5:20 -- Not sure where this mile came from. Must have been a last ditch effort to try and stick with it. Saw my dad again and this was the first time I told him I may be dropping.

Mile 9 -- 5:33 -- Fading. Downed another 8 ounces of Gatorade but fading. Our pack was now 3 and it didn't look like it would last much longer. I was going to drop here, but saw that several Kenyans had just dropped and so I pressed on thinking there was an outside chance to get in the top 10 and win some money. I would have had I been able to hold on to even 5:30 pace.

Mile 10 -- 5:23 -- A few more Kenyans drop.

Mile 11 -- 5:40 -- Wheels start coming off but more people are dropping. I hang in. Probably a mistake.

Mile 12-14 -- 16:54 an average of 5:38 -- Forgot to stop my watch for three miles. A signal my head was now leaving me. Would have been the ideal time to drop. But I was told I was in the top 15 still and 10th gets $1,000. So I pressed on.

Mile 15 -- 5:45 -- Wheel #2 is now off.  

Mile 16 -- 5:49 -- There goes wheel number 3.

Mile 17 -- 6:01 -- All wheels now off. Should have dropped here because i wasn't going to see my dad again until Mile 19.

Mile 18 -- 6:15 -- I knew I was dropping at this point so I just jogged it in trying to keep lose but limit my marathon recovery.

Mile 19 -- 6:35 -- Still jogging and happy to see my dad. I was done. Showered and bolted for the airport to catch an earlier flight and see my family.

A few thoughts:

  • Was I frustrated? Yes and no. MN is a long way to go to DNF. But I did all I could both in training and during the race. The frustration is less with this race and more with the distance itself. As everyone on this blog knows the marathon is tricky. You train for months and months for one race and then on race day, so many things can go wrong: weather, illness, injury, etc. And it's not like you can have a bad race and then go run another one a week or two later like you can in the case of a 5k, 10k or even a half marathon. It's a lot of eggs in one basket. 
  • The great news is I drank very successfully. I had 8 ounces of fluid every two miles which is something I've never been able to do before. So the trip to Duluth may have been worth it just to discover this.
  • Grandma's Marathon is a beautiful course better organized than any race I have run of any distance. The elite perks were simple but awesome. The crowd support was phenomenal and I missed the best parts...through downtown and the finish. It's great to see a town get behind an event like this. It reminded me of St. George in that way. It's just too bad the timing of this race is when it is. Late June in the upper midwest is increasingly not conducive to ideal running weather. This is the 4th or 5th year in a row that warm weather has been a major factor.
  • While the course is a net downhill of about 150 feet, I would not consider it aided. It's got several uphills and lots of rollers. It's a very fair course but I wouldn't consider it crazy fast.
  • The winner, Chris Rabbe, had a huge PR (2:15) and won by more than 3 minutes. He is a native Minnesotan which may explain why he was the only one in the Top 25 who PR'd.
  • I learned later on that race officials briefly, but seriously considered canceling the race due to weather. I think they made the right call to carry on.
  • 2:19 is likely not attainable which may shape my plans moving forward. I'm going to spend the next few weeks easing back into things. I'm going to focus on getting my iron levels up to where they should be and do all of the extra exercise and core stregthening things I need to do to be in absolute tip top shape. Then I may give it one more shot in Baltimore or Hartford or even Nashville in December. I missed quite a few local races this year training for Grandma's and I don't want to do that again chasing a goal that is not attainable. But before completely giving up on OTQ, I'm going to go through one more cycle, focus on my nutrition, namely iron levels, and give it maybe one more shot.
  • One more thought...why DNF? Everyone has different goals entering a race: BQ, OTQ, hit a certain time, land in a certain place, win prize money or simply finish. I'm not at a point where finishing a marathon is all that exciting to me. I didn't fly 1400 miles across the country to finish a marathon. I could do that much closer to home. I went, first, to OTQ. Second was to get a high place and possibly win some money. When both of those goals went out the window due to conditions beyond my control, I had a decision to make. By dropping I cut my losses and allowed myself a much shorter recovery period which will allow me to do some other races in the next couple of weeks that I want to do...maybe even the Seattle RNR this coming Saturday.

ST4 Miles: 19.00
Weight: 0.00
From MichelleL on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 12:06:07 from

I would say you ran hard thru mile 17, even though your pace was off. The weather likely made even the 6:00 a hard pace. Huge difference between 17 hard and 26 hard for recovery.

Are you saying 2:19 is not likely for this year, or by 2011? If the latter, I wouldn't give up on OTQ yet. The women can't even OTQ yet, it's too early. You have two more years and you are close. You've had some incredible races. Just need the stars to align, and there's two more years in which to do it.

From Sean Sundwall on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 12:09:46 from


Thanks for the kind words of encouragement. I'm not giving up quite yet. The stars indeed do need to align and I'm not getting any younger so that's why I'm trying to get it done as early as possible. None of my shorter times (10k or Half Marathon) quite pencil out to a 2:19 marathon. 'Calculators' are just a guide and have been wrong before but they are based on years and years of data. So after my fall marathon, I will take a break and then really focus on getting my shorter times down even more which will get me the footspeed I need to OTQ at the marathon distance.

From Ashbaker on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 12:22:49 from

Sean, You are a great and tenacious competitor. Too bad it just didn't happen today for you. More races, better days ahead for you. Really good report by the way.

From Bonnie on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 12:41:23 from

Smart choice, you are right we all race for different reasons, you have to think about your goals and make choices based on what is best in the long term. Good luck in laying out the training plan. I think you are thinking and competing like a champion and I wish you all the best attaining your goals! Thanks for all the inspiration Sean!

From Snoqualmie on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 14:01:20 from

My condolences for your lost opportunity, but also my congratulations to you for being smart and knowing yourself and knowing what you want. I learned a lot from your report, so thanks for taking the time. Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

From neumannator on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 14:49:03 from

Thanks for the race report. Got home from church and checked the blog to get the scoop on your race. Sorry it didn't go as planned or hoped. One thing about the marathon is that it is a strange beast. For a long time i have wrestled with the marathon and still haven't broke 3 hrs although my shorter race times say i should easily be able to. My goals aren't as ambitious as yours but i will keep trying. don't give up on your goals, but don't pass up the opportunities to race shorter stuff. you are an awesome runner. good luck.

From Holt on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 17:17:04 from

Man... Sorry Sean. Just after a tough racing experience is a good time for evaluation but a difficult time for readjusting goals. No one knows but you, but from another perspective I can totally see you hitting your OTQ. Keep up all your amazing and inspiring work!

From Superfly on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 17:29:13 from

Sorry about the race Sean. I totally agree about the DNF attitude. You don't need to finish a marathon to prove anything to anyone. I'd drop out in a second- after last years St. George race I'll never push through one again for no good reason. Plus it just makes the recovery faster.

Keep doing great... your a great example to all of us.

From Barry on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 19:39:26 from

Sorry you had such a hard race. I agree with Steve, there are better days ahead of you. Don't let this one get you down.

From fiddy on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 20:44:51 from

Yes, you need things to go well, but an OTQ is within reach for you for sure! And age is just a number, aren't you running as well as you ever have this year?

From Burt on Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 22:21:40 from

Bummer about the heat. I know how much you were looking forward to this race.

From Snoqualmie Ridge Runner on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 01:35:23 from

Glad to see you saved your legs for softball on Monday if you can stop hitting it right at the third baseman we may be moving in the right direction :)

From jtshad on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 11:10:10 from

Sorry about the DNF, sounds like tough conditions. Hope you can figure out if the OTQ is in your future at one of the races you indicate and can get it another go.

From paul on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 14:05:29 from

Sounded like tough conditions. I agree that marathons are fickle and you need absolutely perfect conditions to run your best. There are no guarantees, that's for sure. At least you don't have to recover from the full 26.2. I hope the next race pans out better. You are in great shape, and should be able to find additional fitness between now and fall.

From Nevels on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 14:21:58 from

Tough break on the weather, but good call on dropping - no sense prolonging the recovery for nothing.

From Sasha Pachev on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 15:48:06 from

Sean, some math to prove you have an OTQ. We are going to use ratios of shorter distance PRs to the marathon. 5K, 10K, and half. To mess around with them you can use the calculator box on the entry page.

Some numbers off the top of my head.

Ryan Hall: 9.52, 4.49, 2.11

Takayuki Inubushi: 2:06:57/28:26=4.46

me (taking 15:37 and 2:27:46 since they were run on comparable elevation drop): 9.46

There was a Japanese runner around 2:07 that had a 9.39 ratio, I do not recall his name off the top of my head, will find it later.

Also, in the 5 K and to some extent in the 10 K we need to distinguish between the best attainable speed, and the speed at the time the best marathon was run. Because 5 K specific training will train the body to burn fuel at the fastest possible rate rather than to run at the fastest possible pace with a fuel burn rate fixed. The difference in the 5 K speed will be about 20 seconds for a natural marathoner.

To run 2:19 you would need 4.49 and 9.40. 9.40 is rather challenging, although still possible. 4.49 is quite doable. The encouraging part is that your 14:47 was achieved without a whole lot of focused 5 K training and racing, so you might be able to get away with as high as 9.5. If you could run 14:35 5 K you would only need 9.53 to qualify.

I see ratios as high as 9.4 attainable even when the 5 K PR is a true expression of the 5 K potential achieved with 5 K specific training. At least I was able to achieve 9.46 against a true 5 K when I trained 5 K specific, had practiced the distance, had a good day, gave it all, felt like puking after the first 0.5 and all the way to the finish, etc. None of my marathons compare in pain to that 5 K.

From my experience - key elements of getting that ratio: develop a superheart (max HR less than 180, heart no longer the limit), healthy liver and other aspects of the fuel system, and learn that marathon is a long sprint.

To achieve it. Good aerobic base to start with. Healthy diet. Hawthorn berries might help with the super-heart, at least I had good results with them. Lots of running at dream marathon pace plus or minus 10 seconds a mile. And, to make the ratio worthwhile, maintain the 5 K speed, after all 16:00*9.4 = only 2:30:24.

So in practice, I would do something like this. 90 miles a week, maybe 100, but 90 should be good enough. 3 speed days: one 8 mile tempo in the middle of 15 mile run, one 5 K speed session, prefer longer intervals, something like 3x2000 or 3000-2000-1000, but if 72 second quarters start hurting then it is time to do a few quarter repeat sessions to re-learn how to run fast. The third speed session is the long run. At least 10 miles of it, work your way up to 15 at a fast pace. Tempo pace should vary from 5:10 to 5:30 flat sea-level windless equivalent, adjust for the conditions as necessary, avoid heat. Even though the pace can vary, the bulk of it should be centered around 5:18. The idea is that once in a while in a perfect race you'll have a surge, and you may hit the wall with a few miles to go and have to run a little slower, but most of the miles in a perfect race will be done with a 5:18 flat effort plus or minus a couple of seconds. So we learn to optimize the economy at that range of paces with the target pace being in the center. Recovery runs at an easy pace.

Good diet, good sleep. Very important for a number of reasons, in short if that does not happen, the 9.4 ratio becomes near impossible due to failing health.

A note on the superheart - I think it is the key to running well in the heat. If some of the blood is being used to cool off the body, to run the same pace the heart should have a few beats to spare. So if you develop that a warmer day still gives you a chance.

For more encouragement, Shin Nozaki ran 20:33 in the 4 miler where you ran 19:55 (the same race), then a few weeks later he ran 2:20:18 in Fukuoka.

Of course, another route is working on Quality X, or in other words learning how to run period regardless of the distance, but that is a very difficult area to improve, or at least after years of trying I still have no clue how to do it and have not heard of anybody who does. Reaching the 9.4 ratio is a lot easier.

In short, though - I think you can do it, and this is not just a cheer, or optimistic math.

From sg on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 17:42:12 from


Grandma's was my first marathon ever and what a tough day it was. I felt bad for all the people who are running very competitively and came to Duluth expected a typical cool race. I was trying to break 3:30, but finished with 3:53 because of cramping and just being exhausted. I found many of my weaknesses and how I will train differently for my next one. However I gained perseverance during a race that took everything I had to finish strong. I'm glad you were able to take some positives away from the day!

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