It wasn’t until the drive up I-77 towards Cleveland that hit me, I’m going to run another full marathon. It has been a year and a half, and eight months since the Columbus debacle. I can’t lie, I got a little nervous, but more excited. I thought often on the trip up, but tempered my emotions by blasting stupid music and annoying my wife. We got to our hotel, checked in, and immediately headed to the expo. There I picked up my bib, met fellow Cleveland Marathon Ambassadors Jill and Brian, and walked around for a little bit. I made the inevitable purchase of a Sole Clothing shirt, you should definitely check out their stuff.
After a few hours, we headed to the VIP reception and hung out with most of the Ambassadors and staff from the race. It’s always a good time, and you can read more about that, and my 8k, here. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and got some rest for the next morning.
I ran the 8k and finished 8th overall, and felt really good about how my body felt. After walking around to cool down for a bit, I headed back to the hotel, for some stretching and foam rolling, then the boring part of marathon weekend hit. The waiting. I watched infomercials and QVC, I was completely bored out of my skull. My wife went to volunteer at the expo though, so I didn’t feel like I had to entertain anyone. Though boring, it was what I needed before tackling 26.2 miles the next day.
After my wife got back from the expo, we headed off to the pasta dinner, carbed up, and then went to the bar of the hotel for the final beers before the race. Relaxing came easy to me this night. I didn’t feel like I was in thoughts too much, and fell asleep pretty easily. When I woke up at 5:00 on race day, I didn’t feel tired and was ready to get out the door. So I grabbed my gear check bag, dropped it off, and headed to the start. It was a little less hectic than usual for me, as I waited till the last possible moment to leave the hotel. I needed no final port-a-potty visit, and lined up about 20 minutes before the start.
It started to hit me a little bit as the corral filled up, but I kept myself in check. I reminded myself that I was doing this for the fun of it. Don’t get ahead of myself, keep my expectations low, and just go out and have fun. As the marathonfoto lady was milling around, I sensed her about to ask me to have my picture taken, so I turned around and walked away. I went up the pacer of the group I’d be running with and asked “Am I the only who walks away from the photographers at the start?” He laughed and let me know that he does the same thing. That was the beginning of what would be an hour and a half of conversation with Kenny. He recognized me from the 8k the day before, and we began to talk a little bit.
Before we knew it, we were walking up to the start, and Executive Race Director Jack Staph sounded the horn. We were off! The thing I love about running with a pace group, particularly at the beginning is that they can keep you reigned in. I kept feeling myself going ahead of pace, and I’d look over my shoulder and realize I need to dial it back. We wound through Playhouse Square, passed by First Energy Stadium (home of the Browns) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As we passed through there, the crowd began to thin out. We made our way through the flats, this was a beautiful addition to the course this year. But no good deed goes unpunished.
As we came out of the flats, we crossed the Cuyahoga River (thanks to Share the River for the photo), and came to mile four. Oh boy. That was a freaking hill. It was one of those long, straight, steep hills. When you think you’ve made the top, you realize you’re only half way there. This was the first time I felt the effects of the 8k the day before. After we hit the top, it took a solid two miles for me to get my legs back, but I kept moving. I had thoughts of dropping off, but I kept telling myself, “get to 10k, then decide”. By the 10k mark I was feeling better, and ready to rock. It was about here that Kenny yelled he was taking a bathroom break, and I kind of had to pee. So we took off for the port-a-potty, and then got back on the road. About two minutes after our break, Kenny caught up to me. But the rest of our group was pretty much gone. Kenny and I talked for quite a while about running, work, life, food, whatever. The miles were ticking by.
My goal coming into the full was to have fun. Period. I didn’t care about time, but had to have a goal. That goal will always be to PR, and the 3:15 would have brought me that. We were coasting for a while. We got to the half split about a minute ahead of schedule and all seemed to be going well. We caught a few other members of our group, and carried on for a bit. That’s when Kenny said he was stopping to stretch his achilles. We carried on.
He left us about mile 14 or so, and we all kept moving. But that’s also when I started to feel the effects of the 8k on Saturday. I struggled mightily with blisters two years ago, and I started to feel some of the same hot spots developing on my feet. I kept up the pace until mile 16 when I saw a med tent. I decided to nip this in the bud, and throw some Vaseline on my feet. As I pulled off the road and stopped, I could tell I kind of swayed a little bit. I was weaker than I thought. The lady even asked if I was ok, and I insisted I was. This was the break I needed, but I’d be ready to roll the rest of the way.
After this stop I got back on pace for the next mile or so, but after the turnaround at 17, we had a hill. I made a point to look strong, since I knew I’d see my friend Jamie, but I knew I was about done. But just one foot in front of the other at this point.
I didn’t have the most ideal training cycle, and raced my ass off in an 8k the day before, I knew this was to be expected. Honestly, I was just hoping it would happen a little later. My pace slowed pretty drastically at this point, and I began walking the water stops. But every time I would walk, instead of getting down on myself, I would just remind myself to HAVE FUN! When I would do that, I would chuckle to myself and start running again, even if it was slow.
About mile 19 or 20, my friend Ryan came up, pacing another group, and I thought I’d hang with them for a while. We talked and he helped keep my spirits up, but my legs just had nothing left to give. I hung with them for maybe half a mile or so, but I couldn’t any more. My pace slowed some more.
The next mile or so I went solo, and the rain began to fall. That’s when Dominic, a new running friend, caught me. We were both in the same boat. Just struggling to push through that wall that hits so hard late in a marathon. We had passed each other a couple of times throughout the race, and we just began to talk. It made the next little bit go by quicker, but he started to cramp and had to fall off. I was back on my own.
Before I knew it, the mile 24 flag was finally in sight. I began passing walkers from the half, and I could feel it was finally coming to an end. But I still had two miles to go. That’s when I came across an unknown gentleman. I came up beside him and gave him the “Good job today man, you got this”. We started talking, and pushed a little more the last little bit. As we came up on the 26 mile flag, he thanked me for pulling him with me. It’s stuff like this that makes it “fun” even when it shouldn’t be.
As the adrenaline hit, I was able to kick it a little bit. I saw the clock and thought “Get it below 3:30”. I just managed that. 3:29:59. It wasn’t my best time, but it was an awesome effort, and a great experience. This race was a reminder to HAVE FUN! That I did. I crossed the finish, and found my wife who was handing out medals, and went through and got food and my gear check. It was pouring down rain, and I just wanted to get back inside… But I couldn’t.
Shortly after my Ambassador friend Melissa got engaged at the VIP reception, my friend Dan came up to me. Dan is Stephanie Lesco’s boyfriend, she’s also an Ambassador, and they’ve become great friends of mine. He let me know that he was going to propose to her at the finish. So we found our way back up to the front of the finishing corral, and waited for Steph to finish. (I also snuck a selfie with Ryan, he hates those things). It seemed like an eternity with the rain, but soon we saw her. The whole race was in on it too. You maybe even have seen video of it. It was really special to be a part of, and I want to thank you guys for letting us be there and share the moment with you.
I tell you what, to see two of your friends get engaged on the same weekend is freaking awesome! This was a weekend I’ll never forget, and a race I’ll always enjoy. I can’t wait to come back next year.