my 2015 cleveland experience – race weekend recap

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Amazing. Fabulous. Accomplished. Those are a few words to describe my Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon race weekend. It kicked off Friday with the VIP Reception at the Hyatt Regency. One of the perks of being a race ambassador is an invite to the annual VIP Reception, and this year did not disappoint. Dan and I had a chance to rub elbows with the race coordinators and staff, as well as race sponsors and elites. The best part was getting together with the other ambassadors. It was fun to see them all dressed up in clothing other than shorts, tank tops, and running shoes, and I must say we all cleaned up well.

Saturday morning was the kids’ big race – the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon 5K! As you know, they have been training for this for a few months. I was more than a little nervous for this day because my darling Adrianna had been emphatic about not running this. Despite wanting me to sign her up, she did not want to train, and during every training run, she complained and quit. I wasn’t sure how she would complete 3.1 miles, but since she made the commitment, she was running it. I knew Alexandra, Cole, and Cael would be fine, but Annie was unpredictable.

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We arrived with plenty of time to spare and walked to the start line. The girls were calm, but the boys were another story. They were bursting with energy in part from their very nature and then from the GU Chomps I gave them pre-race. I wasn’t sure if the kids would need a little jolt to help with their run, and I figured they would think the Chomps were a treat. Turns out they didn’t need them. I gave them the pep talk – no running ahead of me, stay together as a group, and no complaining! The gun went off, and it was time to race!

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We didn’t have much trouble reaching a comfortable pace for the kids, and I was surprised how easy it was for us to run as a group. I have to admit I was that paranoid mom who had visions of losing her kids in the crowd of runners, but it didn’t happen. We reached the first mile, and all of the kids were still looking strong and smiling. We made it to the water stop, and they were more enamored with the person dressed as the water drop than drinking the water. I made them take a quick drink, and we kept running. They were still looking and feeling great, even my Adrianna! The part that really got them excited was running through the tunnels as we made our way back to Edgewater Park. I have to admit the tunnels do make you feel pretty awesome.

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Once we got into the park, the boys were ready to take off. They didn’t understand there was still a substantial bit of race left, but I kept us together as a pack with the caveat that they could sprint when we had the straight-away to the finish. Lexi and Annie were still hanging tough, and Annie, despite not really training much, didn’t seem fatigued. We made the final turn to the finish, and Cole, Cael, and Lexi took off. Annie hung back with me as we sprinted to the finish. I cheered for them as they crossed the line and received their medals. They had done it! All four of my kiddles ran the entire 5K! This was the fourth one for Lexi, the second one for Cole and Cael, and Annie’s first. Super proud mom moment!

Saturday was filled with more pre-race fun as Dan and I headed to the Expo. This year, it was at the Cleveland Convention Center, the new venue definitely classed up the affair. We browsed the booths, spent some money (I mean, who DOESN’T buy stuff at the CLE Expo???), and gave the Brooks gait analysis a try. I’ve been running CLE marathon events for 6 of the last 7 years, and this was my favorite Expo to date. Great job!

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Dan and I were fortunate enough to stay at the Hyatt Regency the night before the race, so after the Expo, we headed to the hotel, drop off our goods, and went in search of dinner. Staying in downtown relieves SO much race-day stress, and it lets you enjoy the day and mentally prepare for the race. It allows you to be a tourist in your hometown. And did I mention you don’t have the headache of parking and making it into the city before roads close on the morning of the race! I highly recommend saving your pennies and getting a room downtown before the race. You’ll be glad you did.

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I woke up Sunday morning, and the first thing that went through my head was, “Holy crap, I am running a half marathon this morning!” I haven’t run the CLE half marathon since 2011, and since that time, my times have gotten faster and my goals loftier. Before, I was content with just finishing the race and not walking. This race was different. I was shooting for a substantial PR (my previous was 1:58:30 set in October 2013). When Dan and I talked about the race, he thought I was going for just under a 9:00/mile pace. My goal was bigger than that; I wanted 8:45/mile or less. With the humidity and heat, I was more than a little worried that my goal was unattainable.

As we made our way to The Q for the start, I saw more and more runners, and the nervousness turned to excitement. All of us were in pursuit of the same thing – a great race. Then I got REALLY excited seeing some of the other race ambassadors! We met for a group picture at 6:30 at the start, and that was a great way to kick it off and gain a little motivation. Unfortunately, not everyone was there in person, but we were all together in spirit!

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Dan and I headed to the corral with ten minutes to the start. We weren’t running together, so I gave him a kiss, wished him luck, and took my place among the other runners. I was ready to do this! The gun went off, and it was go time. Months of training culminated at this moment. I had a little trouble at the start and didn’t realize quite how fast I was going. My watch was telling me I was in the 9:30s, and I knew that wouldn’t work if I wanted a PR. I sped up, and when my watch beeped for the first mile, it said 8:22. Crap, too fast, and my body could tell! I guess the watch was having trouble locking in my speed with running through downtown, so I backed it down a little. My plan was to hang around 8:30-8:35 for as long as I could, knowing I would have to back it down on the Shoreway if I wanted to have any gas in the tank for the finish. I wanted to run hard and be so physically exhausted at the end, so I could say I left everything I had on the course.

Second mile came, and I have to admit I was in a bad place mentally. With the heat and humidity, I was already feeling a bit fatigued, and I thought I was going to have to stop for the bathroom (dreaded PR killer!) Thankfully, I was able to make it through the mile without a bathroom break, and my body kept moving at a steady pace. I knew from the start this run would be hard and tried to not think about the remaining miles. It felt like I had so far to go! Instead, I focused my race one mile at a time.

The next few miles came and went, and I was still holding strong. I made sure to hit up every water stop because I was concerned about dehydration and cramping and also took advantage of the sprinklers and hoses to cool off. While the heat may not have been as intense as the races in 2012 and 2013, the humidity was killer! Once I hit mile 10-11, I was substantially tired mentally and physically and took my last gel. Note to self: buy more Honey Stinger Gold! That stuff is liquid gold! The only thing that stood between the finish and me was the Shoreway. I started the incline, and my legs felt like lead. I tried not to look at my watch for fear of crying. I had held a steady pace between 8:30-8:45 for the whole race and saw my pace drop by more than a minute as I ascended. I felt defeated and was glad Dan didn’t make the trip back to run the last bit with me. Having him see me like that would have made me feel even worse. As bad as it felt, I kept running. I had to. I worked too had to walk now. I worked to had to let some hills stand in the way of my goals.

I was elated when I made it to the top of the last hill and knew it was all downhill time. My pace picked up as I saw the finish and glanced at my watch. I was totally going to PR this race!!! I tried to make my legs go faster, but they were already giving it all they had at this point. I smiled, well at least tried, as I approached the finish line and crossed. And then I jumped and threw my arms up and celebrated a little because I crushed my race – 1:54:45 (8:45 pace). PR Party for me!

With my medal hanging proudly from my neck, I walked through the finisher crowd, grabbed my favorite post-race food item – chocolate milk, and tried to find Dan. Thankfully, he spotted me, and when I saw him, I started crying. Yes, I cry a lot when I run, especially when I run well. And a PR always warrants a good cry.I was even happier when Dan said he set a PR in the 10K – sub-8:00 pace! He has battled injuries since last year’s marathon and was unable to even get back to running until late fall/early winter. Cleveland Marathon races didn’t even seem like a possibility, but he made some crazy training commitments (i.e. waking up at 3:00AM to go to the gym before working an 11-hour day) to bounce back. I was so proud of him.

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After enjoying the post-race festivities including the Great Lakes Brewing Company beer at the finish (GREAT local addition to the race) and the VIP breakfast, we packed up to head home but not before continuing the PR celebration at Fat Head’s Brewery in North Olmsted. There, we ran into Brian, one of the inspirational Parma Height’s firefighters who ran the marathon in their gear to raise money for ALS research. I was a bit awestruck because running a marathon is no joke. Running it in full gear for charity takes it to another level. As a thank you, Dan and I covered dinner for his family, and he repaid us by buying a round. Thanks, Brian! The other firefighters and you are amazing!

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just hanging out with Jack, pres. of the CLE marathon and all-around awesome guy

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post-race and PR festivities

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picture with a real life hero – Brian, one of the firefighters

The weekend couldn’t have gone any better. With our race PRs, the great run with the kids, hanging with my fellow race ambassadors, the generosity of the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, and meeting Brian, my heart was full. This was my third year as a race ambassador/blogger, and this group, by far, was the best. The support and encouragement helped push me through when I felt I was failing, and you were all there to help me celebrate my successes. I gained so much more than I expected when I signed on again to help promote the race. We are not just race ambassadors; we are friends. Fast, slow, middle of the pack, we all bonded over this experience, and I can’t wait to see you again. I love that we are already planning ambassador reunions and races. Thank you, Jamie, Andrew, Melissa B., Melissa C., Jessica, Pam, Debi, Emily, Christine, Jill, Joe, and Stephani for EVERYTHING! You are all rock stars in my book!

Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon staff – the race and you have a special place in my heart. We have been on this journey together for the past three years, and I appreciate that you continue to allow me to promote my hometown race and share my running story. Being an ambassador helped add a sense of purpose to my running, and I am thankful for the people I have inspired and the ones who have inspired me. Thank you so very much! I can’t wait for next year…hint, hint :-)

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pier w copper river salmon run giveaway winner!

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I know I’m a day late, but I wanted to announce the winner of the Pier W Copper River Salmon Run race entry. Thanks to those who entered, and the winner is…AMANDA! Congrats and email me at stephplus4blog@gmail.com for more info. This is going to be a great race!

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find your motivation

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It’s takes more than a little luck to power you through 13.1 or 26.2 miles! As we near the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon races on Sunday, I’m making a mental checklist of items that motivate me, things I can recall when my legs are tired, lungs can’t breathe, and I just want to see the finish line. I feel as though I’m well-trained but go forward with trepidation, so I know I will need a little extra to get me through. Here’s the list of motivators for my CLE half marathon.

  1. My kids: they are the reason I run – to set a good example and be a healthy mom AND because as much as I love them, they drive me bat-shit crazy! With each major race, I have each of them select a mile for me to run in their honor. Sunday will be no different.
  2. My boyfriend/running partner – this has been an interesting training season without Dan running beside me. Between work commitments and battling injuries, we haven’t been able to train together. I want to run well on Sunday because it would make him proud.
  3. My family: they continue to put up with my running craziness and support me along the way. Each individual family (Mom & Dad; Stevie & Tracy; Sarah, Rhett, Sophia, and Beckett; and Susannah, Billy, Savannah, and Mackenzie) has their own mile.
  4. Myself: Damn right I’m using myself as a motivator! I’m proud to say I have been a runner for a little over 6 years and have come so far since my first run. I didn’t even make it a mile without stopping, and now I have a number of marathons and half marathons under my belt. I’ve slimmed down, disciplined myself, and pushed my body to the limits. Races are a chance to celebrate that.

And because I love motivational quotes and pictures, here are a few that I hope motivate and inspire you!

pier w copper river salmon run race entry giveaway

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Chances are if you think of great restaurants in the Cleveland area, Pier W will probably come to mind. So when I was contacted on behalf of the restaurant to help promote their race and celebrate their 50th anniversary, I jumped on it! Pier W is hosting the Copper River Salmon Run/Walk 5K on Saturday, May 30 at 10:00AM. The race begins at Lakewood Park’s Outdoor Pavilion (14532 Lake Avenue, Lakewood) and following the race, there is a lunch on the patio at Pier W. The race celebrates Alaska’s Copper River salmon season, and proceeds benefit an organization that does great things to help local residents – the Malachi House. The Malachi House cares for terminally ill patients who have no caregivers or available funds to pay for care. I encourage you to check out their website and read their resident stories, and I dare you to not shed a tear.

Race registration is only $30, but I was offered a free race entry for myself and one lucky reader! If you want to run with me on May 30, here’s your chance. You can have one entry for each of the items below.

  • Leave a comment telling me why you would like to run this race and/or why you love Pier W.
  • Like Pier W on Facebook and leave a comment below.
  • Like Malachi House on Facebook and leave a comment below.
  • Follow Pier W on Twitter and leave a comment below.
  • Tweet about the giveaway and tag both Pier W (@pierwcleveland) and me (@stephplusfour) in it. Make sure you leave a comment below.

The giveaway ends Monday, May 18. The winner will be selected using random.org and contacted by me via email. He/she must claim the prize within 48 hours or another winner will be chosen. Thanks again, Pier W, for allowing me to promote the race and offering the entries! I’m excited for May 30!

For more information on the race, check out http://www.hermescleveland.com/roadracing/events/pierw.asp.

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the countdown is on!

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2015 CLE marathon

Anyone else out there feel as though they blinked their eyes, and the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon was here?! What seemed so far away when we were busy battling the cold and digging ourselves from the mountains of snow is less than a week away. Thousands of people will come to our great city to prove the months of pain, sweat, and miles were worth it. It is a very personal test, as it’s different for all runners. Some are eyeing a Boston qualifier. Some are hoping to finish. As a middle-of-the-pack runner, I’m shooting for a new half marathon PR. No matter the goal, we will all take our place at the start line together.

I attended a leadership training last Friday called Leadercast at a local host site, and as I was listening to the speakers, many of their comments struck me. The theme of this year’s event was The Brave Ones. I guess my head was tuned in to running and racing, and I started thinking that we as runners are leaders. I think it’s the nature of the sport – we are constantly supporting and driving others to take up running, to run just a bit faster, to achieve what was thought unattainable. I dare any runner, whether elite, middle-of-the-pack, or slower paced, to say that he or she hasn’t inspired someone in some way. That makes you a leader in my eyes.

That being said, here are some takeaways from the training that I hope will motivate you like they did me.

Andy Stanley: Bold leadership/leaders have these four characteristics – clarity, focus, stubborn, resourceful.

  • This one made me laugh because running requires clarity and focus and being resourceful, but you also have to be a little stubborn to want to continue. The run won’t beat you; you win and keep coming back for more.

CMDR Rorke Denver: Make bold corrections to get bold results.

  • A runner can’t expect to run a great race by taking small steps. In order to excel, you need to make some major changes in the way you train. While it may be hard, the payoff is worth it.

Malala Yousafzai: Bravery has no limit.

  • The fact you are making a commitment and taking your place at the start line shows you are brave enough to take the first step. How many people on the couch can say that?

Peyton Manning: No matter the outcome, don’t look back.

  • Not every race goes the way you want despite all of the months of training. Remember that one bad race does not define you as a runner or a person. If that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t be writing this as a CLE marathon race ambassador because I would have given up after my horrible marathon in 2012.

Peyton Manning: Learn to thrive with being uncomfortable.

  • Great things were never accomplished by staying in one’s comfort zone. A race is exactly the same way; it’s supposed to be hard and uncomfortable. That’s what makes it so great.

Aja Brown: Brave leaders aren’t superhuman.

  • Everyday people like you and me can be leaders. Keep that in the back of your mind as you start your race, but that’s not to say you won’t feel superhuman after your accomplishment.

This was my personal favorite from the day, and I will close with it. Think of this when you feel yourself hitting the wall.

CMDR Rorke Denver: Pain is one of fear’s tactics. Lean into the pain. Recognize it is a growth opportunity, and that is where bravery lies.

Be brave, CLE runners, and best wishes for a great race. I’m excited to take my place with you on Sunday.

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my dress rehearsal – hermes cleveland 10 miler recap

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This weekend marked the start of my 2015 race season, and I kicked it off in style with the Hermes Cleveland 10 Miler! As much as I wanted to run this race, I didn’t register due to having the kids with me, but because my awesome boyfriend Dan was willing to stay home with the kids that morning, I was able to run. Game on!

I woke up Saturday morning and was instantly nervous for a variety of reasons – first race of the year, hoping I would even have a bib that morning due to my super late registration, pressure to run well, driving to the race on my own, freezing my butt off (it still felt like winter in CLE that morning), having to go to the bathroom mid-race, etc., etc., etc. Even though I was using this as a training run for the Rite Aid Cleveland Half Marathon, my mindset was geared more toward completely crushing my 10-mile PR that was set so long ago that I can’t remember the year.  

I arrived super early for two reasons – 1) to pick up my shirt and race bib and 2) in case I got lost I would have plenty of time. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I made it to Edgewater Park without a wrong turn AND my bib was printed and waiting for me. I sat in my car for a while and watched the other runners roll in as I tried to get myself ready to race. I didn’t really have a set plan for pace, but I had to be under 9:00/mile. Anything under 8:45/mile would be freaking fabulous for me. 

It was about that time to leave the warmth of the car and make the trek up the hill to the upper portion of Edgewater Park. I was really excited to get to the start line to see my college friend Allison, who made a trip up this way to run both the 10 Miler and the Half of Fame Marathon in Canton (yeah, she’s a badass mother runner!) I haven’t seen her in years, but we bond over running on Facebook all the time. Seeing her really made my race and gave me a little extra motivation to run well.

I wasn’t sure where to line up for the start, so I just picked a spot that looked near the middle of the pack. When the gun went off, I realized I made a small mistake of starting too far back. Nothing against the slower runners, but I was worried about wasting time and energy weaving to get out of the clump. Thankfully, I was able to break free sooner than I thought, and shortly after, my watch alerted me of the first mile. It read 8:20, and I was like, “Holy crap, you went out too fast!” But I felt fantastic! The smarter side of me took over, and I slowed my pace a bit. However, I decided that I was going to push it and try to run at a pace that challenged me. 

The first few miles were pretty easy, but things got a bit harder at the turnaround at mile 4 with heading back into the wind. Keep in mind I have been a treadmill girl during this brutal CLE winter, and although I have been running outside lately, the wind still messes with me. I started to get a little tired but felt instantly better after taking a gel. It was around this point in the race that I noticed a guy who was running near me and holding the same pace, although he made it look easy. I figured if I could hang with him, I should be in good shape. 

The miles kept coming, and I was almost giddy at the fact my pace was still holding steady. Providing I didn’t completely crash at the end, my old PR was going to get blown out of the water. The last bit of the race was harder for me. There were way more elevation changes than I thought, but I continued to stay with the guy I was using as my pacer. We chatted a bit after I was swearing about yet another hill, and I told him that if it wasn’t for him keeping pace, I probably would have slowed down. I was surprised when he said that he was using me as his pacer for the race. I didn’t think that I was the one being helpful, so that gave me a little boost to finish strong. 

The last mile was so much fun. Something about running through a tunnel makes you feel like a badass! The finish was in sight, and I kicked up the pace a bit to finish fast and with a smile on my face. I gave my pacer a high five and thanked him for helping me run a great race, and then I grabbed my medal, put it around my neck, and did a little fist pump in the air. My old 10-mile PR was 1:38 and some change. Today, I crossed the finish line in 1:25:09 with a pace of 8:30/mile! PR Party for me!!!!!

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I walked back to the car with a sense of accomplishment. I not only ran a great race and set a huge PR but I also gained a little confidence back. I’ve felt like my running has been on the decline this year with everything that has been going on, and this made me feel like I have made some gains again. It was just the dress rehearsal I needed for the Cleveland half on May 17. I’m ready! Bring on the 13.1!

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Thanks again, Dan, for making this race possible. I couldn’t have run it if you weren’t crazy awesome enough to watch the kiddles to allow me to take this time for myself. I owe you big time. Thanks, Allison, for motivating me. You’re a great runner, and I look up to you. Hope we can run a race together soon. And lastly, thank you, random running guy in the blue shirt, black tights, and glasses. You helped pace me for my fastest 10 miles ever.  

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we have a winner! – CLE marathon giveaway

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Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway for a free Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon race entry. I’m pleased to say that we have a winner, and it is…Erin Brite! Congrats, Erin, and shoot me an email at stephplus4blog@gmail.com to claim your prize. :-)

Didn’t win and still want to run? Then get off your butt and register HERE!!! There’s still time for you to have your own Cleveland Experience.

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