But this was just one of the many things on my list I was trying to knock out the night before. I knew 4:45 a.m. was going to come around real early and scrambling around the house was not an option. I got in bed by about 9:30 p.m. that night and had a relatively good night of sleep. When the alarm went off Sunday morning, I immediately shifted into high-gear. Oatmeal with chia seeds and strawberry yogurt - check. Body glide applied and nipples taped - check. I grabbed all of my other race essentials and hit the road at about 5:25 a.m. My goal was to make it to the Triskett Rapid station for the 5:45 a.m. train to Tower City. I pulled in to a parking lot with a fair amount of vehicles and then it hit me. I almost forgot to apply sunblock. For most people, this might just be a minor issue, but when you have near snow-white skin and a bald head like me, it's critical. Within seconds, I was lathered up with SPF 50. Thank goodness! I always forget one thing and I just remembered it. Everything was now on track and things would be just perfect.
Until I went to grab my phone out of my car.
At that point I convinced myself to not try and beat down his door to wake him up. Instead, I retreated back to the Triskett station and got on the 6:00 a.m. train. The train was full of runners. I sat there during the ride and decided on a solution to my dilemma. I texted Kristie and told her to bring the sock sleeve with her and I would pick it up from her between mile marker 4 and 5, her first planned spot to see me. Until then, I would just run with my phone in my hand. It wouldn't be so bad. Our train pulled into Tower City at about 6:20 or so. My plan was to then jump on the Waterfront line and get off at the Browns Stadium stop. I had exact change in quarters for my fare, but apparently I tried to put my quarters in the kiosk too quickly and it didn't recognize one of them. I pleaded with the RTA worker at the gate that the machine just took my money. After a few moments she waved me through the gate while appearing slightly annoyed. After waiting for what seemed like 20 minutes, the train finally arrived. All the runners squeezed onto the two-car train and we arrived at Browns Stadium with about 20 minutes to spare.
I made my way over the starting gate and did some stretching in the grassy area to the right. As I got up to get back in the starting corral, I saw a guy who just finished peeing behind a tree. I realized it was now or deal with a port-a-potty later, so I jumped at the chance to pee in public. I hurried back into the corral and found the 4:00:00 pace group. Ahmaad Crump was on the PA doing his thing, "Cleveland Rocks" was playing over the speakers. The race was about 60 seconds away from starting. The marathon was starting and I could finally stop thinking about all the little things that had clouded my mind the whole morning!
Once I got out of the gate, the first mile was pretty slow because of the congestion. When I passed the Mile 1 marker, the clock read 14:17, but my chip time was roughly a 10:00 mile. I wasn't very happy with that, but I remembered a lot of that was uphill and it was wall-to-wall runners. Things got better as I made my way out to Edgewater. For the next few miles, I was running roughly 9-minute miles. I was back on track to my goal of a finish between 4:00:00 and 4:30:00. Soon, I was coming up on the spot I was supposed to meet Kristie. She told me she would be on the right side of the road. I flew through the turn onto West 110th and then again onto Lake Ave. heading East. No Kristie. I knew I didn't miss her as I looked nearly every spectator that was on the right side of the road in the face. Then my phone starting ringing. It was Kristie. I wasn't going to answer it during the race. Nothing good could come of that. I needed to press on and I'd hopefully see her in Tremont around mile marker 9 or so. In the meantime, the crowds in Ohio City were absolutely awesome. Tons of music and bands. Great cheers and signs. The energy was flowing.
I started coming up on where I thought Kristie would be in Tremont. I had made the decision over the last mile that I was going to hand her my phone and headphones. I didn't want them or need them. Music was going to just be another distraction at this point and I didn't need something else weighing me down. Plus, if I had my headphones in, how would I hear all the cool sounds along the way? My hopes of seeing Kristie, my father-in-law, and Macy faded with each turn I rounded. Somehow, they missed me again! But just then, I looked up and saw my Mom & Dad just ahead. I ran up to my Dad and gave him my phone and earbuds. "Here, I don't want these anymore." My Mom gave me a big cheer and I was off.
The Willey Ave. hill was a killer. Lots of runners were walking up that steep, short incline. I don't believe it was part of the race last year and it definitely added a degree of difficulty to what is normally a pretty flat course. But within no time, I had powered up the hill and then over the Lorain Carnegie bridge back into downtown Cleveland. Within another mile or so, I was finally at the branch-off point where the Half-Marathoners turned left and the Marathoners turned right. It felt good to make that turn. The crowds instantly thinned and there was a certain sense of camaraderie from that point forward. We were all in this for the long haul.
I passed a priest who was sprinkling holy water on runners. I figured I could use as much help as I could possibly get so I made sure to get close enough to get a few drops as I passed him by. Before I knew it, I saw my parents again at about mile 14 or so. But still no Kristie. I actually started to worry a little at this point. Did something happen to them? Was she calling because it was an emergency? I couldn't help but wonder, but I had to get focused on the 12 miles ahead.
It had heated up quite a bit since the start of the race. It was in the mid-70s at this point and although I had bypassed most of the water stops to this point to save time (I had my own water belt), I started to cruise through the stations not only to grab a cup of cold water, but to get sprayed by the hose to help cool off. I think the race workers were kind of amused that I would run up to them and hold my arms straight out, signaling for them to douse me with water. A few of them would spray me right in the face. Those were the best ones!
After that point, everything changed.
The crowds were gone. The runners thinned out even more. Some runners had stopped to walk. Others were sitting on the side of the road resting. Some were even being treated by EMS. My pace had slowed to about a 10 minute mile at this point and it kept getting slower. The sun was beating down and runners were getting creative to find shade to run in, often darting to side of the road that had the most tree cover or shade from office buildings. I started to actually stop at the water stations for about 30 seconds to drink my water and then press on. I forgot to mention that at this point, I was eating a GU gel about every 4 miles, but once I got to mile marker 20 or so, they just didn't sound very good anymore. And what was this feeling in my quads? They were burning! I never had this happen to me on my training runs. Somehow, I was going to have to power through it.
At the end of MLK, we turned left onto the bike path along Marginal Rd. I knew from this point on, it was going to be a serious struggle. I was running at about a 11:00 or 12:00 minute pace now. I knew this because every time I passed a mile marker, the minute column was going up, not down like it was earlier in the race. Runners were dropping out like flies. Even the 4:00:00 pacer dropped out, according to the woman that was now carrying the 4:10:00 pace flag. With barely any spectators, it was a lonely journey between each mile marker and water station. Those were the only highlights at this point. I kept thinking to myself that I might have to walk at some point. A race official even mentioned a red flag for a heat advisory and was shouting at all runners to slow their pace. I believe I was headed south on E. 47th, when just ahead...BOOOOOMMM! It sounded like a M-80 had just been set off in the street right in front of us. The woman next to me looked at me and said "What the hell was that?" The adrenaline started flowing as I was cautiously looking around for the idiots that were throwing firecrackers into the racers. But to my delight, it was apparently a biker's tire that blew. I think he was actually fixing a flat and pumped up his tire too much when it blew, sounding like a true M-80. It was good to know there were no race terrorists I had to deal with. It was back to worrying about the suffering I would have to go through for the next three miles to finish this race.
As each mile marker passed, I calculated in my head that a sub 4:30:00 time was still very do-able. I didn't need to break any records here. Just stay at my 11 or 12 minute pace and I would be fine. As I entered downtown, the crowds started to grow and before I knew it, I was on East 9th street headed north and downhill. It was so close, I could taste it. The faster I finished, the sooner I could stop running. I rounded the turn onto Erieside and I could see the finish line. My brain instantly made an inquiry with my muscles. Could I pick up my pace, or possibly even sprint the last few hundred yards? I shifted gears and started into long strides and then after a few hundred feet, kicked into a sprint. As soon as I did that, I felt a muscle knot up in my left quad. Oh well, I didn't care. I was going to keep sprinting until I got through the finish. I crossed the finish line and I finally got what I had wanted for the last eight or nine miles. To walk. To even stand still for a while. A race official handed my medal and shook my hand and told me "Congratulations." It was so good to hear that word. I did it. I had finished a marathon for the first time in my life.
My official time was 4:27:28.
Rankings were as follows:
- Men's 35-39 164th out of 270
- 1199th out of all 2594 full marathoners (male & female)
- 865th out of all 1562 male marathoners
Today, as I sit and write this blog, I am very sore! Going down steps is a killer, but I've found that the more I move around and walk, the better everything feels. Sitting still too long really just stiffens up the joints.
I am very happy and honored to say, I am officially a marathoner.