Warning: this is going to be a long post, so get comfy and enjoy 🙂
Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon weekend is like a holiday in our house. The anticipation builds for months, and it all culminates with one race. Countless hours and miles have been put in to get me to this point, and on race day, it’s all a huge mixture of heart, motivation, perseverance, and grit.
My race weekend kicked off on Friday. I volunteered to work the Sparkly Soul booth at the Expo, so I was there bright and early for set-up (thanks, Uber driver, for getting me through downtown traffic!). So glad I got there when I did because it took a lot longer to set up the headbands than I thought! But when it was done, the table looked beautiful and super sparkly! I was thankful when lunchtime rolled around because my friend Melissa, CLE marathon ambassador and fellow Sparkly Soul lover, volunteered to help me at the booth. We had a blast sharing the sparkly love with CLE, as this was the first time the company had come to the Expo. It was also fun to visit with my ambassador friends who showed up to grab their bibs! Seeing them always makes me smile. And Jamie! She knew that I was feeling very unsure about the race and raised my spirits with her encouragement and treat bag. Thanks, sole sister! I needed that! I would also like to say thanks to my cousin, Katie, for helping Melissa and me work the booth for the last few hours of the Expo, so we could get ready for the Marathon’s VIP reception. Sorry you had to deal with the person who wanted to steal the headbands but glad you stopped her in her tracks!
As always, the VIP reception did not disappoint! The marathon coordinators, race sponsors, elite racers, ambassadors, and marathon supporters have a chance to get together and celebrate the race. Held in The Arcade, the reception is definitely a highlight of my weekend. It’s also a time for the ambassadors to have one last get-together before race day. It’s funny to see us dressed in something other than running clothes, but I think we clean up pretty well. We’ve become more than just race ambassadors; we are like a little running family that helps support and motivate each other. We have fast runners, slower runners, and sprinkling of middle-of-the-pack runners, but that doesn’t matter. We are one team.
Saturday morning came bright and early. No rest for me because as part of the Challenge Series, I was participating in the 8K that morning. I was very excited for this race because I was walking it with my dad. My mom and our family friend, Julia, were walking the 5K. I had my own little crew! I waited for the shuttle at the hotel, but there was a little issue with its coordination. Ultimately, I hitched a ride with Andrew (another awesome ambassador friend) and his brother to the start at Edgewater. After frantically trying to meet up with my parents, I found them under the pavilion, gave them their bibs and shirts, and got ready to walk. The weather was cold and rainy, a precursor of what was to come on Sunday, but we smiled through it.
Dad and I had a great walk. We admired the houses in the Edgewater area, chatted about all kinds of stuff, and enjoyed each others company. I don’t get to do many things with just my dad, so this was important to me. I was super proud of him, too, because he stepped it up and ran a bit with me, even at the finish in the crazy winds! Although I was proud of my dad, I started getting really down on myself about the marathon on Sunday. When we made our way into Edgewater for the last mile, the winds were just punishing us! I told me dad how upset I was that I put all this time into training just to have it derailed from weather. As I fought back tears, I told him that running a sub-4:00 marathon would be impossible. We crossed the finish, grabbed our medals, met up with mom and Julia, and had to jet. I had to be at the Expo to work the Sparkly Soul booth again on Saturday.
I have to thank Dan for saving my butt Saturday morning. With walking the 8K, I was running really short on time. So short, in fact, I didn’t have a chance to go back to the hotel to change clothes and grab the supplies needed for the booth. To help me, Dan brought me the necessary items and even stayed a the booth a little to help. He knows Sparkly Soul well because when he had long hair, he would wear them sometimes (the more manly ones, of course). He also hears me talk about them non-stop. Shortly after Dan arrived, Melissa and her friend Lynanne came to the booth. I can’t tell you enough how thankful I was for their help! If it weren’t for them, I don’t know how I would have been able to prep for the marathon on Sunday. They let me take off around 2:00pm to rest and get off my feet, which I badly needed. Thanks a million, Melissa and Lynanne!
Saturday evening was filled with nerves! I was freaking out about everything for Sunday’s race – the weather, what I was going to wear, meeting up with the ambassadors in the morning, wondering if I would bomb my race from being super busy leading up to this point. Lots of doubt was running through my head, and I was trying to mentally prepare myself for my B goal (4:05 marathon) and C goal (4:10 marathon). I thought my A goal (sub-4:00) was completely unattainable at that point.
Sunday morning came early, and the mood was a somber one. Dan and I got up and dressed relatively quickly. I know he wasn’t feeling his best either, so we were both kinda hot messes. I was contemplating bailing on the pre-race pic with my ambassador friends (glad I didn’t). We stepped out of the hotel, and holy coldness! Mother Nature was playing a cruel joke on us yet again. Obviously, she didn’t get the memo that it was spring! I was dressed in warm clothes, but Dan decided he was racing in normal May attire (shorts, tank, calf and arm sleeves). I was so glad I had a spare foil blanket from a past race! He looked super cute in the silver foil skirt.
When we got to The Q, we found some of our friends, and that helped put me at ease. We were all in the same boat – freezing our butts off and hoping for the best! Some of the CLE marathon ambassadors made it for the pre-race picture, and after we hugged goodbye and said good luck, we split for our corrals. My plan was to run with the 4:00 pace group. This was the first time with a group of any sort, as I almost always run by myself, but I was doing everything I could to help me reach my goal. Starting with the pace group seemed like a smart idea. Before I knew it, it was race time! I kept telling myself, “I can do this!” but I was worried.
I was surprised how crowded it was at the beginning and at the number of people who didn’t start in the correct corral. I’m not knocking slower runners at all because I used to be there, but good race etiquette is to start in an appropriate spot for your speed. At the beginning of the race, it was a bit frustrating to have to dodge people who were walking. There was also the stress of staying right by the pacers, and that was hard to do until we got to about mile 2.5-3. I could tell early on that the pace group just wasn’t my thing, but I wanted to give it a fair shot before peeling off. I had planned to put on my music later in the race, but I needed it sooner, at mile 4. I stuck with the group through approximately mile 8 when my friend Will came up behind me. We chatted for a bit and ran together before he pulled ahead. At this point, I was ahead of the pace group and running a much more comfortable pace for me.
I don’t remember much until about mile 12 or 13 because I was on autopilot. I was already cold and wet, but my spirits were fading quickly. I didn’t know how I could keep this up for another 13 freaking miles!!! The weather turned worse, too, because we were running into the wind. Hail/sleet pounded me, and I had to put my hand across my brow to try and block it from stinging my eyes and face. My earbuds fell out, and this was when I realized I couldn’t feel my fingers to put them back in my ears. This scared me and made me worried about hypothermia or some nonsense like that, and this was the point in the race that I really needed a little musical motivation. It seemed like I would never reach the turnaround, where the wind would be at my back. I must have looked like complete hell because the guy running next to me looked at me and asked if I was okay. In a half sob, I said no but kept pushing forward. I had to give myself a serious pep talk at this point and tell myself to get my shit together and finish this race. I felt a little boost when I hit the turnaround and kept putting one foot in front of the other. I finally got smart and ditched the cold, wet gloves and was able to put my ear buds back in. Time to buckle down and finish the race.
Throughout the race and especially for the last 8 miles, I kept checking my watch. Since the miles were way off, I was making sure that when I hit the mile markers, I wasn’t over/just barely over 9:00/mile. That way, I knew I would have time in the bank for the dreaded Shoreway. And THANK GOD I had some time in the bank. Miles 23-25 were absolute hell for me. My whole body was hurting like it never had before, and I was doing my best to not go into panic mode. There were two times on the Shoreway I had to take a tiny walk break for about 30 seconds to collect my thoughts and chill the hell out, but I started right back into my run.
I thought I had pulled myself together until I saw Dan at mile 25. I found out later that he completely crushed his half marathon PR and decided to come back near the end of my race to help me if I needed it. He wasn’t expecting to see me so soon and knew I was way ahead of my sub-4:00 goal. I saw him and started crying, partly because I was happy to see him and partly because I didn’t want him to “see me failing.” (yes, I thought I was failing even though I was crushing my run) I was tired, beat down, and so over being cold and wet, and I didn’t want him to see me that way. I had to walk a little because I thought I was going to start hyperventilating. After a short break, we started to run again. I told him I couldn’t talk until the end, but I was glad he was there. He peeled off at the downhill to the finished and cheered me on as I completed my race. Before I even hit the finish, I was crying yet again (yes, I get it. I cried a lot!). I DID IT! I ran a marathon in under 4 hours. And not just barely squeaking by to be under 4. I did it in 3:57:19!!!! Which is a nearly 28-minute PR from my previous best marathon!
At the finish, I sobbed big, ugly tears as the kind volunteer placed the medal around my neck and told me congratulations and cried again as I hugged Dan across the fence in the finishers’ area. I looked at the medal, squeezed it, and felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride. This was, by far, the hardest race I have ever run and the most satisfying race I have ever run. Wind, sleet, hail, snow, rain, cold temps, lack of rest time for my body, lack of sleep, and a packed weekend didn’t stop me from accomplishing my goal. And this wimpy runner just kicked CLE weather in the face! Reflecting back on yesterday, I don’t think there is anything I could have done to run any better. When I would talk about the race to others, I said I wanted to leave it all on the course and have nothing left when I finished. I did exactly that. Yesterday wasn’t about running with your legs. It was about running with your heart. As it’s been repeated many times already, but it totally was the “most Cleveland race ever!” And we survived and thrived, proving yet again that Clevelanders are a tough bunch.
I would like to take some time to thank some amazing people who have been on this journey with me. Thanks, Dan, for being there for all of this. You were there to celebrate my great runs, pick me up from my bad ones, motivate me, and give me a kick in the ass every now and then. Congratulations on your great race, too! I am proud of you, just wish they would have taken a race pic so I could see you in your badassery. Love you.
Thanks to my family! I don’t come from a family of runners, but that doesn’t stop them from being involved in the sport I love. Whether it’s walking a 5K/8K with me or tracking my runs or coming to my races, they are behind me 100%.
Thanks, CLE marathon ambassadors! You have been there when I needed you. We were in this together and supported each other along the way. There are no other people I would have wanted to have on this journey than all of you.
Thank you to Jack Staph, Ralph Staph, Joan Freese, Kayla Henderson, Mary Suter, and the rest of the amazing team that comprises the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon for allowing me to be part of the race family for another year. I appreciate everything you have done for me over the past 4 years and can’t wait for next year!
Lastly, thank you to people who doubted me because you helped fuel the fire that got me across the finish line. I was thinking of you when my body was killing me, rain/hail/sleet/snow were pounding me, and I just plain wanted to quit. I know the doubt was well-intentioned, and I don’t fault you for that. You were looking out for me. I’m not a risk taker, but this was a huge risk that I needed to take. I had something to prove to myself, and I proved I am stronger than I originally thought.