After many months of training and anticipation, I was able to complete the 36th annual Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon today. Each person on the race course has their own “Cleveland Experience”, and I am thankful to share mine with you.
My prep for the big day started last night. I made sure my clothes were set, race bag packed, and breakfast planned. The goal was to be as ready as possible to alleviate any stress in the morning. I took some Advil PM to help my muscles and allow me to sleep (I was VERY anxious) and was in bed before 10:00pm.
I will be the first to tell you that I don’t like to get up early, but I woke up without my alarm at 3:30am. I didn’t feel the least bit tired, despite only getting about 5.5 hours of sleep, and jumped out of bed to get ready. I know some people like races because they figure they don’t have to do their hair and make-up; I am not one of those people. I like to look halfway decent because they are always taking pictures. After getting ready, I had my go-to breakfast of toast with chocolate peanut butter and bananas and water. By 4:50, Raymond, his sister Suzanne, and I were out the door. If you remember, Raymond was going to run the half marathon, but injury prevented him from running. Luckily, he was able to transfer his entry to his sister when we were at the Expo on Friday. He was going to be our cheerleader today.
We made it to Cleveland by 5:30am and, because of the generosity of the Cleveland Marathon, were able to park in the VIP lot directly across from Cleveland Browns Stadium! In the four years that I have been running Cleveland Marathon events, I have never parked this close to the starting line. It was pretty awesome! Something even more awesome – we were able to walk right into the bathroom without having to wait in a ridiculously long line! It wasn’t long after arriving that we saw Jessica, Ryan, Beal and his sister, and John and posed for a few pics.
At about 6:30 we made our way back to where I would be starting but not before snapping a pic with Kevin, aka Slim Goodbody. Can you believe he wears this to run?! Truly original, and you know it will be a good race day when you see him in this costume.
My plan was to start at the 10:00 minute per mile pace flag. I didn’t really think it would be possible to sustain this pace for the entire race, but last year I started too far back and had to weave around a lot of slower runners for the first two miles (no offense; I’m a slow runner, too). I wanted to get off to a better start this year and get my pace set. I had hoped to meet up with my friend Susie, who was running her first half, but it was so hard to find someone in the sea of bodies. I was happy, however, to see Stephanie and also my friend Carrie, who is my BFF Lynne’s sister-in-law (Carrie, thanks for snapping pics and sharing them with Lynne).
I had to make a last-minute bathroom break, and before I knew it, we were off. It took about 7 minutes or so to go across the starting line. When I did, I took a deep breath and said to myself, “Here we go!” I didn’t turn my music on for the start of the race. I like to take in the experience of the crowd cheering and the music playing. I was running along, excited for the race, and I hear my watch make a loud beep. I look down, and the first thing that flew out of my mouth was the f-bomb. I must have lost satellites when I went in the stadium to use the bathroom, and it didn’t connect back up. I started the watch up again as quickly as I could and check it when we hit 1 mile. The watch said .5 miles. This really irked me, and I was very upset at myself for not checking the watch again before I started the race. It was a stupid mistake and one that I will learn from. Instead of freaking out, I tried to move past this and focus on running. Unfortunately, that was hard to do with one headphone crackling in and out. Really?! A watch issue (operator error, of course) and now this? I had to calm myself down at this point because I was already very agitated and only at mile 2. I still had a long way to go on the journey to 26.2.
After I simmered down, the race went well. My pace was what I was hoping for (a little over 10:00 minutes per mile), my legs felt great and rested, and breathing was good. I also saw the funniest sign of my race day, and it said “If this were easy, it would be your mom!” I had to chuckle at that as I passed. The miles clicked by effortlessly, and I was already in the Tremont/Ohio City area. That’s where Raymond was waiting to snaps some pics. Along this same stretch I also saw our friend Mario, who was watching the race, and Sheila, the wife of Joe who was one of the official bloggers. I made it a point to yell at them and say hi. Seeing all of them really lifted my spirits.
On the way back into downtown on the Carnegie Bridge, it started to get pretty warm, and racers were feeling the effects. I saw a lot of people starting to walk, and one lady was on the side of the road with EMS taking care of her. Seeing that brought back memories of last year when it was so hot, and people were dropping like flies. Thankfully, I was still feeling great, but I knew I needed to make a bathroom stop. This was something I was dreading from the beginning.
Soon after, it was time for the half marathoners to finish. When everyone split off, there were very few that kept the right to start the second half of the race, but it was nice to have people cheering us on. I gave myself a little pep talk when I hit mile 13 because the second half of the race was so hard for me last year. I didn’t want a repeat. Unfortunately, I had to stop running because I needed to use the bathroom ASAP. Other runners had the same idea because there was a pretty long line. At this point I got a little teary because I knew stopping meant I had little chance for a PR, but to continue running would have been impossible. I also saw the red flag at the halfway mark, which meant runners should slow down due to heat. That’s when I knew it was gonna be a hot one.
I continued running when I got out of the bathroom, but stopping has a way of killing my momentum. My pace got slower, the sun got hotter, but I was still able to run. I could feel my muscles starting to get tighter and tighter, and then around mile 18 (about the 30K point), I had to walk. The muscles above my knee and around my shins cramped so badly that I had no choice. I was devastated, but I tried not to let it break me. I was still making pretty good time (overall pace was about 10:30 per mile), considering the circumstances. But then I needed another bathroom stop when we were on Martin Luther King Drive about mile 20. We were not close to an official race stop, but, as luck would have it, there were a port-o-potty just a little off the road. Never before I started racing would I have been so happy to see a port-o-potty.
After mile 20 I felt like I was failing, and I was thankful that Raymond didn’t make a trip to that part of the race course. I didn’t want him to see me alternating between walking, running, and stretching to relieve muscle cramping. I think I would have just cried at that point for him to see me struggling. All of the other runners around me were having similar issues, and people kept encouraging one another along the way. It was no longer a race against the clock; it was a race against ourselves.
I was so excited when I got to mile 23 – only 3 more left! I got a little bit of a second wind in the fact my muscles weren’t cramping as badly, and it was exciting to see the downtown skyline in the distance. Then came mile 24. I told myself that I didn’t want to walk unless it was through a water stop, but shortly after saying that, I got a huge cramp in my calf that made me completely stop. I stretched and rubbed the muscle while other runners were asking if I was okay. Thankfully, it went away fairly quickly, and I pressed on, knowing only about 1.5 miles stood between me and the finish line.
Hitting mile 25 was a rush! I knew that I had enough energy left to run this one completely. As we made our way closer, the number of people cheering got larger and larger until the streets were lined with spectators. I turned off my music when I saw this to take in the finish. We rounded the corner, and it was a nice downhill stretch on East 9th (I was so thankful for downhill!) Only one more turn, and I was going to cross the finish as a 4-time marathoner! As I finished the last .2 miles, I could hear cheers from the stands. Another great perk of being an official blogger was receiving VIP bleacher seating passes, so Raymond and Suzanne were there cheering me on (they also took advantage of the delicious VIP breakfast after she completed her half). Finally, after 4 hours and 49 minutes (chip time), I crossed the finish line, and I felt great!
I quickly collected my medal, posed for a pic from the photographer, and zipped over to the food tables. I was SO happy that they still had chocolate milk left. Last year, all I wanted was a bottle of chocolate milk, and they were out by the time I finished. Not this year!
After that, I made my way out of the runners’ finishing area to meet up with Raymond and Suzanne. We walked around a little and then sat for a bit before moving into the beer tent. Cleveland Marathon gives all runners a complimentary drink ticket, and this was the first year I took advantage of the free beer.
We walked up to the stadium to leave but not before spotting our friend Christian at the Run for Autism tent. Christian revived his Richard Simmons look for this year. I was happy to see the medal around his neck because I know he was pretty convinced that he wouldn’t be able to finish the race due to injury which prevented him from training as planned. He mentioned that he ran with Jess and paced her, which was awesome because it was her first marathon.
Of course before leaving Suzanne and I had to pose for a quick pic in the stadium with our medals, and I needed a pic with one of my favorite supporters.
And speaking of Jess, I got to see her in the parking lot before we were leaving. She said that if it weren’t for Christian, she wouldn’t have been able to finish the race. It’s always nice to have running friends to help you along. We posed for a quick pic, in our Sparkly Soul headbands no less, and then left for a delicious lunch at Angelo’s in Lakewood (best pizza ever).
As I sit here writing this recap and going over the details of my day, I have to say that although I didn’t PR and had to walk a little, I am still very pleased with the way the race went for me. If you take out the two bathroom stops, which accounted for about 6 minutes of my total time, I was only slower than my Columbus Marathon time by about 5 minutes, and in Columbus I had no bathroom stops and perfect weather conditions. That’s not too shabby. I am also happy because I did better than last year’s Cleveland Marathon. I don’t walk away from this feeling like I need redemption for my poor performance. I did the best I could do under the circumstances (heat, bathroom issues, muscle cramping), and I am happy with that. Do I want to run another marathon? HELL YES! I am still eyeing a new PR. Today just wasn’t my day, but I finished, and that in itself is an accomplishment. And, most of all, I had fun!
Congrats to all of the Cleveland marathon, half marathon, and 10K runners and walkers. We just proved again that we run this city!
And…just one more thing. I love this.