This brings us to RACE DAY! I have been waiting for this morning since fall when I started training for the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon. It was time to see if all of those hours and miles were about to pay off. I was hopeful but nervous. Could I really run CLE well after my last two fulls were, in my opinion, complete embarrassments? Time would tell.
Sunday morning, we were able to sleep in a little later because of already being in downtown. Again, best. thing. ever! Dan seemed to leap out of bed when the alarm went off, but I was moving a little more slowly. I got up and started my regular race-day ritual of hair and makeup. I know some girls don’t even worry about that stuff, but I am not one of those girls. Dan’s parents met us at the hotel because they were going to watch the race. It was nice to have their support and also have them act as photographers for us :-) While snapping some pics outside our hotel room, I had a very nice guy stop and ask me, “Are you stephplus4?” I was taken back a bit and definitely had a goofy look on my face because I haven’t been recognized like that before. He went on to say that he reads my blog, and I have to admit, that was a great start to my morning. Thanks for that boost!
Dan and I finished getting ready, the four of us walked to the starting line. The excitement on race day was almost tangible! It was a sea of people, all ready to start their journey to the finish. After some quick pictures, we found a spot in our corral, got in some stretching, and prepared ourselves for 26.2 miles. We had a plan for our race, and I knew that if we stuck to it, there was potential for a huge PR for me and a great first marathon for Dan.
The horn went off, and the race started! It was only about 3 minutes before we crossed the line and were on our way. The weather was a bit brisk for May, but racing conditions were perfect – no clouds, slight breeze, cooler temps, and no rain. I was very surprised at how easy it was to get our pace dialed in. In past races, I’ve spent the first few miles trying to fight the crowd and get to my comfortable race pace but not this year. I think it helped immensely by having a wide starting area.
For the start of the race, we wound around through downtown Cleveland, which I loved! I found the downtown start to be energizing and a way to show off the city. Before I knew it, we were already a few miles in, and the run felt effortless for both of us. The 10K runners made their split, which left the marathoners and half marathoners to continue. The course so far was great, and I found that there was a lot of support along the way. It’s always nice to see the local communities get into the race. I love that Tremont hung banners to welcome the runners. It just made you feel special.
Sine we weren’t using music, we spent the time chatting, enjoying the crazy race signs, listening to the cheers of the spectators, and taking in the run. Most of our training runs have been completed with no music, so this was not unusual for us. The deal was we were going to use music when we needed it, kinda like an extra treat to get us through the tough miles. The miles were flying by, and we were still looking strong and holding a steady pace. We wanted to be between 9:40 and 10:00 per mile, just to make sure we had energy at the end. Then it came time for the half to split from the full around mile 10. I told Dan that this would be a crazy drop in the amount of people, but he still seemed surprised when it happened. A sprinkling of people went to the left to finish the full, while a wave of half marathoners went right to finish their last three miles. We had said that this was where the race really started.
I’m not gonna lie; I was nervous about the second half of the race. While I was excited for the new race course, I was somewhat concerned over the long stretch of race going west, and I kept thinking about past marathons where I bombed the second half. My fears were eliminated once we began running that part. I loved the scenery, the crowd support, and the fact we could just zone out and run straight. It was like we could turn on the cruise control, making the run easier. I was pleasantly surprised with the number of people along the course at this part. Families and friends were sitting on their lawns cheering on the runners, something we didn’t have at this point in the race in past years. I also appreciated the little kids with their own water stops and the people who were passing out oranges and Twizzlers. Those two treats were amazing and greatly appreciated. My most favorite part of this stretch of road was being able to see the elites running past on their way back into the city. I have never been able to see them in any marathon I’ve run, so the sight was incredibly motivating!
Dan and I reached the turn-around at mile 16 and smiled! We only had 10 miles left to go! Both of us were still feeling good at this point and were still on pace for a great race. The next two miles clicked by, and we decided to use our music at mile 18. We didn’t necessarily need it at this point but didn’t want to wait until we were too tired to mess around with headphones and our iPods. The music was like a zap of lightening, and I had to hold myself back from taking off. It was hard when the music seemed to carry me. Reaching the 20-mile marker and feeling good was a huge accomplishment. With this being Dan’s first marathon, he had never run farther than 20 miles, so it was like stepping into uncharted territory. I loved the fact we were still running strong and smart.
The last 6 miles of a marathon are where you learn the most about yourself and what your body can handle. On race day, I once again learned that I was stronger than I thought possible. I almost feel guilty admitting this, but I wasn’t tired at that point at all and felt like a million bucks. My legs still had strength, I felt hydrated, and my body was adequately fueled. Plus, I had the desire to kick some serious marathon butt! When we got to mile 22, I started to get a
little lot emotional. Tears fell from my eyes because I knew I was going to have a great race. After two horrible CLE marathons, I was FINALLY going to run a race that I was proud of! I was glad that I had Dan there because I would have turned into a hot mess really quickly had he not snapped me back to reality. After all, I still had 4 miles left, and I couldn’t be crying when they were taking pictures (good call on the pictures because I pride myself on usually having nice race shots)!
Dan and I continued to run a good race, although our pace slowed a little at his point. After a brief walk at the last water stop for him to get through a leg/muscle cramp, we were back to running. The short walk break was smart on his part, and it allowed us to finish strong. We made our way up the hill on the Shoreway, and the scene was beautiful, with the view of Lake Erie to the left and the downtown skyline to the right. On our way into downtown, we saw our friend Sarah, her sister Melanie, and their mom. Sarah has been Dan’s friend forever, and she planned to hop in and pace us through the end of the race. This didn’t quite go as planned because she wasn’t allowed to reach us until the very end, but having her scream “you’re a f***ing marathoner!” to Dan and run with us for a bit was motivating.
When I saw the 26-mile marker, I kicked it in. I still had energy for a nice sprint to the finish. As we ran toward the end, I smiled the biggest, cheesiest grin and threw my fist in the air triumphantly. Instead of just running through the finish, I jumped into the air with hands above my head. I did it! I conquered the Cleveland Marathon!!!
After crossing, I grabbed Dan and told him how proud I was of him for running his first marathon. The best part was we got to do it together. After our little post race PDA, we grabbed our medals and met up with his family, who had been cheering us on at the finish. Now it was time to celebrate! My official chip time was 4:24:52, which was a 14-minute PR for me (I set this in Columbus in 2012)! I was hoping for anything under 10 minutes. I’m still not super fast, but this is an accomplishment that makes me proud. And it gives me a great goal to beat next time!
I can truly say I enjoyed everything about this race. I LOVED the new course and heard lots of positive feedback from other runners along the way. I think the race organizers nailed it with the route, and I hope it’s the same next year. I especially liked the new start and finish line! The volunteers were extremely helpful and appreciated throughout the race, and I feel like the spectators stepped it up this year! Having that support can really make a difference. Thank you, Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon! I know no race can be perfect, but to me, this was pretty damn close! :-) I can’t wait until next year! And thank you again for letting me be an official blogger for this year. It was a blast, and I loved being able to promote a race that is so important to me.
Who’s interested in taking part in the Cleveland Experience in 2015? Now is the time to make a commitment and sign up! Race prices are the cheapest they will be now through May 31. Register today!