Yesterday was the big day! The result of 5 months of hard training with big goals in mind. The race weekend started up on Friday with me knocking out the last of my taper runs and heading to the expo to get my packet and buy some race swag! I met up with my run club that night for a party and got lots of advice and learned the locations of all my club members on course. I made sure to get a good sleep on Friday night since that was the night where sleep mattered. On Saturday, I met up with my club to drop off supplies which they would hand off to me on course, to chat and have coffee, and to plan race morning with my running partner. I then headed home to eat lunch and take my pre-race walk. Since it was pouring, I walked through my building, through the halls, and down to the ground floor. I relaxed most of the day, other than gathering up my stuff, and I ate my standard pre-race pasta with red meat and sauce, and toast along with a glass of Nuun. I prepped my music, read through my favorite running quotes, and headed off to bed early.
The morning for me started at 4am since I like to get my food in 3 hours prior to the race. I ate my typical 3 pieces of gluten free toast, banana, nuun and coffee. I KT-taped up, and sat there checking the forecast. It looked pretty bleak with temps around 38 degrees that would only climb to about 42, 80% chance of rain, and 18 mph winds. I finally settled on wearing my singlet with my arm sleeves after I stood on my balcony for a while in the weather to see how it felt. My running partner picked me up at 5:20 and we headed for downtown, dodging the road closures along the way. We went to his office to hang out and use the private bathrooms and then left for the start line at 6:20. It actually stopped raining on the walk and the temps didn't feel too bad. I handed off my drop bag and we headed over to the corrals. I said hello to a few people I knew, listened to the national anthem, and got into a good place in the corral. They brought out Mayor Jackson to do the count down, and then the gun went off and Cleveland Rocks! started playing. We worked our way up to the start from corral B and we were off!
I started off with my running partner Mike (gray shirt, blue shoes) and another club member Rich (Blue t-shirt over green shirt with blue sweats). The plan was for Mike to hang with me for the first 13.1 (at least, because he was coming off of an injury) and then hang with Rich for the rest (because he was aiming for a 3:30-3:35). Having the two of them with me was amazing. Because they both are former (and still) speedsters with over 40 marathons of experience between them, they were constantly guiding me and giving me tips. It was split to this side of the road, don't round the corner too tight or you will hit a puddle, drink now, gel now, your pace is fine, don't worry about catching the pacers. I didn't have to think, I was just running. At mile 1.69 I saw my mom and she snapped pics of us. We continued on and right around 2.50 miles it started to hail. Yes, hail! I have never ran in hail before and I actually started laughing because I was like, of course, I wouldn't expect anything else from Cleveland! The wind was also picking up (later we would find out it was 25 mph-28mph winds), but I reminded myself that I had trained in this wind and to push on.
The hail continued to fall as we crossed the Lorain-Carnegie bridge, which is a subtle but sizeable gradual hill and has been challenging in the past. The difference this year, was that I trained on this bridge. I charged up the hill at 7:45/mile, somewhat losing Mike, but he caught back up on the downhill. When we entered Tremont, I saw members of Moms Run This Town that I know and they cheered me on. I kicked up the pace and Mike came along. Rich had stoppped to lose a layer at that point and I was unsure of where he was. As we worked our way through several turns in Tremont, Mike reminded me of the hill out of that part of the city and to prepare myself for it. We came to the hill and the streets were lined with people and I was able to cruise up the hill. At that point it was raining and we were around mile 5.5. I recognized the point in the course last year where I hit the wall early in the crazy heat and felt fantastic that I was feeling good.
Rich caught back up as we headed down a big hill and onto a road called Train Ave. It can also be called a road I never want to run again. This was about a 2 mile stretch which was isolated, had no houses, no spectators, was a nice wind tunnel, and was a long uphill. The hail picked back up and it was actuall painful as it hit me in the face and eyes. The headwind made it difficult to push up the hill, but with Rich at my side, and Mike hanging closely behind, we pushed through, on pace right at or under an 8 minute mile. When we got to the top of the hill, I knew Mike was no longer with us, but I didn't look back to see how far, and Rich and I pushed on. It was about mile 10.5 and we hung a right onto Detroit Avenue, and we were just blasted with a headwind blowing hail and rain into our faces. I had to look sideways as I was running and I was just trying to stay upright. Rich fell behind and I pushed on, holding pace. That stretch was miserable and it was just me and one other girl out there running together. I knew I would see my mom and my run club members with my Nuun and my gel at mile 11 and I used that as motivation. Soon I saw a pink sign and I threw my arms up in the air and so did they and I knew it was them. They cheered for me and I ran to them and they made the handoff and I took off down the street.
The half marathoners were gone at this point and I was alone without Mike or Rich. I knew I wasn't going to see anyone I knew until mile 15 and I knew I was going to pass my building at mile 13.5 which was going to be rough since the wind was intense and the hail/snow mix was still falling. I pushed myself to get to 13.1 and (on my watch) I broke my half marathon PR by about 20 seconds. We were on Lake Ave. at that point and it was a wind tunnel and we were fighting a head wind, hail, snow, and rain. Additionally, my music cut out at the half because my phone got wet and it switched from shuffle to play in order and once my playlist ended, so did the music. I couldn't get the music back on because my gloves were soaked. I tried to use Siri but my phone was in airplane mode so that didn't work either. I pushed on without it.
Around mile 15, I saw the motor cycles coming and I knew it was the lead runner on his way back. I whooped and jumped up and down cheering for him and others followed along. I kept that up for about the first 5 and then for the 6th, I saw my insta-friend Joseph cruising! I pointed at him and cheered and he pointed right back at me. Soon, I saw the lead female and I cheered for her yelling You Go Lady! and she looked humbled and waved and smiled back at me. Shortly after, I saw my club members and they cheered for me as I passed by.
After that I focused back in on my race and noticed my quads were trying to cramp and I pulled out a tiny plastic bag where I keep my race meds (immodium, alleve, and a nuun tab). I tried to get the Nuun tab out (so I could chew it and have instant electrolytes) but with soaked gloves on the run I couldn't do it myself. I ran up to a random man and asked him to help and he undid it for me. I grabbed it, gratiously thanked him, and pushed on, throwing the tab into my mouth. I must have looked like a rabid dog because my mouth was foaming, but the cramping stopped almost instantly. I was around mile 17 and I knew I was still on pace for my BQ, but even though the cramping stopped, my legs were still stiff and my hips were locking up in the cold and wind. I pushed on, recognizing the course from my training runs, and we finally turned onto the bridge to Rocky River and I knew we were nearing the turn around and the wind would be at my back.
Near 18, the 3:35 group passed me (as I was beginning to expect) and I decided to just stay on pace for my PR and maybe try to pick it up later. I then saw members of my run club and my mom, which gave me a big pick up and I knew I'd see them in about .2 miles because I could see the turn around. The hail and wind were awful at that point but once we rounded the turn, it was at my back and I felt so recharged and began to pick it back up.
On my way out of Rocky River, I saw my running partner holding right around the 3:45 pace group and he yelled to me to focus on a PR. Shortly afterwards, I saw Jonathan (another club member) and we cheered for each other. A little later, I saw his wife, Jessica and we cheered for each other too, and I knew she was on track for a PR based on where she was. I was feeling pretty good at that point with the wind at my back and the hail stopping. As we crossed the 30k and then mile 19 it started raining again. I told myself to push, knowing that my club members were waiting at mile 20. By the time I saw my club at 20, I was hurting because my stomach was starting to churn up on me. They told me I looked great and only 10k to go. I pushed through and kept going and soon I was passing my building as the rain and hail continued to fall. It was so tempting to go inside to my apartment.
Around 22 I saw another Instagram friend, Jill, and she cheered me on, which helped me power on a little further. However, at that point, my stomach was seriously unhappy and I knew I had to stop. I found the portapotties right at mile 22.5 before we got onto the shoreway. Both were full and I waited about 2+ minutes for them to open when finally, volunteers came out of both of them. ***RANT --- I'm sorrry but I really don't think volunteers should be taking up the only two portapotties for miles at the same time when the main pack of runners are trying to come through**** Anyways, I was in and out in probably under a minute and I picked it right back up as we headed onto the shoreway. The bathroom break made me feel a lot better and I pushed on, knowing I would see club members at mile 24. I pushed on to them and they cheered me on as I kept going.
I finally got my music back on because it finally stopped raining and my gloves were somewhat dryer. I held my phone in my hand so I could easily switch songs if necessary. Having the music helped me to push through the last couple miles even though the wind became instense in the last mile out on the open highway. As I headed down the last hill off of the shoreway I saw Maureen, a club member who did the half, and she cheered for me and snapped a picture. Seeing her picked me up. I hurdled a dead rat (lol) and rounded the corner and could see the finish line as I crossed mile 26. I let the crowds lift me up and allowed the other runners to pull me in. I managed to kick it in the last tenth of a mile and I crossed the finish at 3:48.13! That was a 7 minute PR for me. I also felt good after crossing, unlike in Detroit where I cramped up and needed the medical tent. I got my finisher medal, space blanket, and tons of bananas and food and made my way to my family.
I hung out after by the finish and waited for Mike to come in. In the meantime, I ran into Will, another instagram friend, who came in shortly after I did. We snapped a pic together. Soon after, Mike came in and we hugged and celebrated our finishes. I ran into a couple other friends, Denise and Craig, from the 20 mile drop, and we congratulated each other. I headed over to get changed with Mike, Maureen, and another club member, Dave. We weren't sure where Rich was, but we needed to get changed before hypothermia set in. My mom literally had to change me because my hands were so numb and Mike had to give me a pair of socks to use as gloves since my were soaked. We then headed over to grab our free beers and lounge in the sun that had actually come out! Rich texted me to let me know that at 13, he turned back and turned the race into an 18 mile training run. We hung out for a little and talked about the race and then everyone headed home, and we planned to head to Rocky River Brewing Company to celebrate at the post-race party thrown by Second Sole Rocky River.
While I didn't come out of the race with my goal of qualifying for Boston, I am in no way unhappy. I battled some of the toughest race conditions that I have ever had to face in a race, especially in a full marathon. It rained, snowed, hailed, sleeted, and the temps were in the low 30s with the wind chill plus the 25+mph winds. Yet, I came out on top with a 7 minute PR and I broke 3:50, which means I am whittling away at my qualifying time. Additionally, I was on pace for a BQ through mile 18, which tells me a lot about how close I am to what I want to do. Finally, I learned I was the 94th female, which is kinda cool because I cracked the top 100 women! There was a lot out of my control in this race, between the weather and my stomach issues, but that is the beauty of running a marathon. You just have to tough it out, push through, and try to do your best. I'm definitely on a high from this race and I can't wait to start running again, but I will be taking some good time off to let my body recover because I need to be fresh before I start training again!