I wasn’t going to run my hometown race this year. After five consecutive half marathons, including my first, on this course, I thought it was time to move on. At least, that’s what I told myself last year. Then, in early October, my neighbor Nick, called to me over the fence. “I want to run the Cleveland Marathon in May”, he told me. Game on.
Nick and I started casually running together 2-3 times per week, beginning with one mile. Then I put a six month training plan together consisting of 3 weekday runs and a long run on Saturday. The first week we did 3 miles Monday, 4 miles Wednesday, 3 miles Thursday and 3 miles Saturday. We started from zero. It was a long plan that required dedication and a lot of hard work. I’d never trained harder for a race in my life let alone bring someone else along for the ride. I’ll post more later about the unique nature of having your next door neighbor as a dedicated training partner.
After 6 months and over 100 training runs together it was finally time.
Saturday Before Race Day
We headed out to the IX Center for the packet pickup. Runcle Ron was also in town for his sixth year running in Cleveland. He ran the full in 2011. I procured a pair of CEP Compression socks for after the run, they felt great by the way. After the expo, we were off to drive the course. Being Nick’s first time I thought it’d be beneficial, plus, I wasn’t overly familiar with the ins and outs of the second half. What I really wanted to wrap my head around was the long stretch from 22-26 along St. Clair with downtown in sight the entire way.
Our pre-race dinner consisted of my typical long run carb-load of shrimp, broccoli and pasta with a tossed salad. Nick typically ate red sauce and pasta and we made sure to have plenty of both for all to enjoy. No complaints from any of our awesome spectators in attendance. After a little running conversation between Nick, Runcle Ron and I, it was time to turn in … around 9:00 or so.
I slept like garbage, nothing unusual here before a race. We planned to roll out by 5:25am. My alarm went off at 5am, but I was up before that. Everyone else in the house had more of a routine than I do. We were on the road right on time and found parking to be a breeze in our usual spot along W.3rd. It’s the best place to get to the freeway easily afterwards.
We made it to the stadium for an easy restroom break and had enough time to take a few pictures. Before I knew it we were headed to the start line. This year, the start was moved a little further west. I haven’t been a big fan of the new start location on the north side of Browns stadium. It’s far too congested and I think people just give up on walking to their proper pace sign and just fill in wherever.
Goals and Expectations
When Nick and I started on this journey, our goal was just to finish. Over time, the goal never changed but certain expectations started to creep into our heads. I was very cautious of getting ahead of ourselves. After our last long training run of 23 miles, I felt comfortable with putting together a realistic plan to hit sub-4 hours. The only caveat was Mother Nature. Ultimately, we both knew it was lofty, yet certainly achievable.
An Enjoyable First Half
The first mile was filled with the typical ducking, dodging and weaving. I counted at least 6 pairs of walkers and had a few choice words for the few I nearly ran over. If you were one of them, I’m not apologizing.
Our plan was to hit 8:45 splits the first half. The first mile turned in at 8:58 but we more than made up for it with an 8:15 second and settled in from there. It was a fun, enthusiastic first half. I had fun with the spectators, greeting as many as possible with a boisterous “Good morning!”.
As we crossed mile 11 along the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, I took note of the last bit of clouds still hiding the sun. It was already humid but the clouds kept the temperatures manageable. This was all about to change.
Our first half split turned in at 1:54:51 and right on track for sub-4.
The Second Half – Where Things Went Wrong
Our plan was to downshift from 8:45 splits to 8:55 splits through mile 20. With a walking 2min fuel break just after mile 14. Just before our fuel break, Nick and I noted the sun starting to take its toll. We both agreed at that point that sub-4 was mostly out of the realm of possibilities. I’m glad we were able to have this open and honest line of conversation. Far too often one person can push the other beyond their limits and, on day like Sunday, that was only going to lead to a DNF.
We were still doing well until mile 17. My left foot started getting a little cramp … odd but I was working through it. Then the backside of my left knee. My mind started racing, when you log enough miles, you just know when something’s not right. It concerned me enough that it actually upset my stomach and I tossed my cookies a bit along a tree lawn. Puke and rally. I actually felt a bit better and we pushed for the solace that I thought would be the shaded confines of MLK. As we came through University Circle into the lower section of MLK, it hit me. My left quad started to cramp. I backed off and had to walk. After a few starts and stops it cramped to a point where I basically hobbled from mile 20-21.
Miraculously, it worked itself out. I was concerned. Nick was concerned. I told him to head on without me. He never left. I appreciated it. The last 5 miles were a battle and filled with a walk/run routine. I called on my two previous marathons where that was the norm and we got through it. By mile 25, I was actually feeling pretty good and we were able to finish relatively strong.
As we entered the last .2, Runcle Ron was there cheering us on. I’ve always been there to see him finish and we finished two marathons side-by-side, but this was a little different. After running the half, it was the first time he was there on the sidelines for me. It was awesome and boy was he loud! We then came on the rest of our family and friends just before the finish. More motivation. We made it. I grabbed Nick’s arm, raised it high and told him “Welcome to the club. You are a Marathoner.” It’s a finish I’ll never forget.
Our official finish time – 4:18:15. We’ll take it. The sun was brutal with temps close to 85 degrees. Our 23 mile long run was done with temps in the low-60s.