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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 :-)