I honestly don’t even know where to begin.

Cliché, I know.

Trying to adequately sum up the culmination of some of the most transformative and amazing 12 weeks of your life in a few paragraphs is nearly impossible, but I’ll give it a shot. This is a long post, but c’mon…it’s my first half marathon!

Following my 11 miler on Monday, my body felt pretty good after one day of rest. I didn’t want to risk getting injured, so I opted to only do one 2 mile run on the Thursday before the race. I did this run in Tremont, and as I ran I thought about the days when I first started running last June. Back then, I thought that 1 mile was an insurmountable distance, and I never dreamed I’d ever get to the day when I would think that two miles would be an “easy” run!

One of the many perks of being an Official Blogger for the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon was the gift of two tickets to the VIP Reception on Friday night. The reception was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed talking with some of the more experienced Official Bloggers about helpful race day tips.

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Your 2013 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Bloggers!

On Saturday, I was excited about attending my first expo. Unfortunately, life had other plans for expo day, and we wound up spending more time on the side of I-71 South dealing with a flat tire than at the expo itself.

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As I sat on the side of the highway, I thought about how all of my successful race days were preceded by extremely stressful days, and I hoped that my troubles on Saturday were a sign that I would great race day on Sunday. God was good, though, and a nice man stopped to help us change the tire and we were back on the road with plenty of time to get to the expo before it closed at 6PM.

On the night before the race, we enjoyed a delicious homemade pasta dinner and a viewing of The Hobbit. Watching Bilbo Baggins’ story—the tale of a man who steps out of his comfort zone and transcends the expectations of everyone around him—inspires me so much. (SPOILER ALERT!) As I watched Bilbo trembling and holding his sword, deciding whether to risk his own life to save the life of Thorin Oakenshield, I told myself that the time for trembling is done and tomorrow will be the day on which I will be like Bilbo and run forward, be brave, and do something that I never, ever thought I could do!

As predicted, I had a tough time falling asleep on Saturday night. I woke up on race day at 5:35AM. Sheila claimed that she woke up a few times during the night and I wasn’t moving, so evidently I did sleep for a bit. I didn’t feel tired in the slightest, though, nor did I feel nervous…I was just anxious to get there!

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to wake up and get to the starting line by 6AM, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make it downtown after 6AM when the roads closed. We took some back roads into the downtown area and Sheila dropped me off at the intersection of Scranton and St. Clair. I had a 0.7 mile walk to Cleveland Browns Stadium, which served as a great warmup walk. This plan worked perfectly and I got to the starting line in plenty of time! Unfortunately, I missed out on a group picture with some of the other Official Bloggers. Bummer!

Once I got there, I stretched a bit, walked around, and tried not to focus too much on the race. I also took a picture of the field on which my beloved Browns play.

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I wandered around a bit more and eventually moseyed on down to the 10:00 pace area. Shortly thereafter, I ran into my friends Matt and Holly. They came and cheered us on when we ran our first 5K—the Lakewood Summer Meltdown—and one of my favorite moments of last fall was cheering on Holly as she ran the half last fall at the Towpath Marathon and cheering on my stepmom as she finished yet another marathon at the Towpath! Seeing them was great and helped relax me a bit.

What was on my mind the entire time, though, was the fact that I still needed to use the bathroom. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of using a port-a-potty en route for what I needed to do (apologies if this is TMI, but I’m sure every runner has been there!) but the lines inside the stadium were pretty long. I eventually headed back up and waited in a line that moved slower than molasses before finally getting in there and taking care of business. Whew!

Once I got back to the pace area, I felt fully relaxed and ready to go! As we all slowly began walking towards the starting line, I saw Katie, another friend with whom I attend church. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally started running!

I had heard that congestion would be bad during the first few miles, but I didn’t find it to be too horrible. The first two miles on the Shoreway were a lot of fun and I felt great. Along the way, I bumped into two people I knew, which was a nice surprise.

Crowd support in the Edgewater\Lake Road area was fantastic, and I cruised through that area without much of a problem at all.

As was the case during my last training run, the 2.5ish mile stretch between Lake Road and Lorain Road felt like an eternity. Crowd support was minimal in some areas and there really isn’t much to see on these streets. I don’t need a whole lot of visual stimuli to stay interested while I run, but this isn’t exactly a visually appealing area and these miles dragged on forever.

I also got really annoyed when I saw someone trying to cross Franklin in a car and looking extraordinarily disgruntled because they couldn’t immediately do so. Cars rule Cleveland every day of the year; can’t us runners just have the road to ourselves for a few hours?

During this time, I didn’t feel tired at all, but I sure felt bored. My focus and drive wandered so much that I wanted to stop and walk. Making matters worse was the fact that I felt the temperature steadily rise and the sun begin to peek out from behind the clouds, and the heat was accentuated by the lack of shade in this area.

My perspective improved a bit as I ran down West 44th and saw a sign on someone’s back that indicated that he was running his 100th marathon. I thought to myself that it would be pretty cool to be able to achieve that accomplishment someday and I thought about all of the hard work that this man invested to reach this moment, and I told myself that I’m sure that he pushed through plenty of tough stretches along the way and that I should perk up and keep going.

The stretch on Lorain went by more quickly than it did during my last training run. Before I knew it, I saw the familiar spire of St. Ignatius High School. I liked many aspects of my high school experience—my teachers were phenomenal, my role as a statistician for the football and basketball teams allowed me to travel all over Ohio and watch some very memorable games, and my preparation for college was excellent. If we have male children, I would love to send them there.

Unfortunately, though, my high school experience was very tough in some ways. Like many other adolescents, I experienced my fair share of bullying. I wasn’t especially athletic, was pretty nerdy and awkward, and never dated during high school. As I ran past the school, I thought about all of the folks who used to pick on me in gym class and I wondered what they would think of me now!

The marching band was playing outside the school, and floods of memories rushed back to me when I heard them. I haven’t been to an Ignatius football game since 1999, and hearing them reminded me of everything that I enjoyed during high school. These positive memories and the overall sense of empowerment that I had from running gave me the strength to shed my bitterness and to resolve that my days of allowing the words of others keep me from reaching to my full potential were over!

Shortly thereafter, I saw my dad, stepmom, and brother on the side of the street. While I knew that they were coming, I didn’t know where they were going to be, and seeing them gave me a huge boost of energy! Seeing them come out to cheer me on inspired me to keep running hard. My pace picked up dramatically as I turned onto West 25th Street.

Before the race, I knew that I would be able to complete the entire 13.1 miles without stopping to walk if I made it to the mile 9 water stop in good shape. I had previously run the remaining part of the race without feeling any fatigue, and I knew that the adrenaline of race day would provide me with an added boost of adrenaline.

I also was looking forward to seeing Sheila and my church family at the mile 9 water stop. Our place of employment—Scranton Road Ministries Community Development Corporation—was one of the Charity Partners of the marathon, and we recruited volunteers for this stop because it is located less than a mile from our office. Our organization is a sister ministry of the church that we attend, and most of our volunteers attend our church as well. I knew that the cheers from familiar faces and the sight of my always supportive wife would provide me with a big boost of energy, and I was right!

I barely got to talk to Sheila because she was so busy, but I was grateful that I could tell her that I was feeling great before shuffling on through to grab Powerade and water.

I was so proud of our volunteers. They did a fantastic job of loading us up with water, Powerade, and Gu!

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Check out that hottie third from the left in the front row!

I felt like I hadn’t run a mile after passing through the stop, and I knew at that point that I would be OK if I stayed focused and ran smart for the next 4.1 miles.

Running through Tremont felt like a victory lap of sorts, and while I was still feeling good at this point, I knew I shouldn’t start celebrating just yet. A spectator in the area had a sign that said, “Run like you’re being chased by a ringwraith!”, which was my favorite sign of the day. Gotta love Lord of the Rings references!

As I ran down West 11th, I noticed that one of the local churches had their worship band setup outside to sing worship songs as we ran past. I appreciated this a lot, and I lifted up a few prayers for strength and thanksgiving to God as I ran.

This area passed very quickly, and I soon found myself turning onto the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge towards downtown. My family had walked down Lorain and I was glad to see them again! My stepmom snapped this picture, which is the only picture that I have from the race itself:

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Around this time, I did a few quick mental calculations. I realized that I had approximately a 5K left and I was feeling pretty good at that time. Part of me thought that now was the time to start running as hard as I possibly could because I knew that I would still make it to the finish line without stopping even if I got winded.

As I thought about this, I noticed that a fellow runner was down on the side of the bridge receiving oxygen and care from medical professionals and that an ambulance was on the way to take care of her.

When I saw her, I figured that shooting for a low time could wait for another day. In the back of my mind, I had really hoped to finish the race in 2 hours and 11 minutes. More than anything else, though, I was set on finishing the race without stopping to walk. I felt the temperature gradually continuing to rise, and I didn’t want to risk a heat-related injury with so few miles left to go.

Was this taking the easy way out? Maybe. Regardless, I thought that risking injury just to cut a few minutes off my first half marathon time was a risky gamble that wasn’t worth taking.

Frankly, I also wanted to enjoy the race and the experience. I have very positive memories of setting new PRs earlier this year, but the process of doing so was rough. Running several miles feeling like I am on the verge of falling apart is not exactly enjoyable, and I didn’t want to come away from the race feeling like I absolutely hated the last part of it.

The last part of the race went by pretty quickly. The band playing outside of the Hard Rock Café was doing a killer version of “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, which I enjoyed.

Those of you who have read this blog for quite some time know that I like to end races with two songs from the soundtrack The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The parts of the movie that feature these songs are posted below:

When I looked at my watch and saw that I was about to hit the 12.5 mile mark, I put the first song on my iPod. I also decided that I could safely start sprinting to the finish line at this point, and thus began the most exhilarating 0.6 miles of my life!

When the half marathon runners made the split away from the marathon runners, I truly realized for the first time that I was about to complete my first half marathon. The feeling was pretty overwhelming and the combination of the emotion of the hour and the dramatic music in my ears led me to get pretty choked up as I ran down East 9th.

Along the way, I noticed someone with a Team in Training foam finger. When I saw this, I remembered my grandpa, who succumbed to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1994 after a full and great life. I ran past and high-fived that person and thought about his great memory, which brought a few more tears on my part.

Once I began the turn to the final stretch, I let loose and ran completely free and uninhibited across the finish line with my hands held high and a gigantic grin on my face!

After I crossed the finish line, I gathered my water, chocolate milk, and pretzels and quickly found Matt and Holly. I had thought that I would be incredibly emotional afterwards, but I instead felt nothing but joy and triumph! Holly had a bit of a rough race, but she still managed to finish well.

Although I wasn’t feeling exhausted, I must have been more tired than I had thought that I was because I started seeing flashing lights in the corners of my eyes. A bit of sitting and relaxing helped and I was back on my feet relatively quickly.

Shortly thereafter, I found my friends Rachael and Amy. I was particularly proud of Amy, as this half marathon was her first race ever! I knew that she hadn’t run a half marathon before, but I had no idea that this was her first race.

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Duc (new friend!), Amy, Rachael, and me

After resting for a bit, Rachael drove me back home, where I changed clothes and iced down briefly before heading to church.

After church, we had lunch with my old college roommate Nathan. He had come to volunteer, and I enjoyed getting the chance to catch up with him!

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When I got home, I saw that my official chip time was 2:16:03. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed by my time, but I figured that the triumph of finishing my first half marathon without stopping to walk was the real goal of the day.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing before heading out to celebrate at B Spot with Sheila and our friend James and ending the evening at Matt and Holly’s house with some race story swapping.

I suppose that this is my last post as an Official Blogger for the Cleveland Marathon, isn’t it? I had a great experience in this role. We have an outstanding running and blogging community here in Greater Cleveland, and the fact that I was selected for this honor out of so many great and talented runners and writers still seems like a bit of a shock to me at times. Serving as an Official Blogger allowed me to make friends with a great group of folks who have provided me with valuable support, advice, and encouragement, and I hope to stay in contact with them far into the future.

Additionally, I hope that I’ve been able to inspire at least one of you who has read my posts. While I enjoy writing and have been blogging for almost 14 years, I honestly threw my hat into the Official Blogger competition because I believed that my weight loss journey and my transformation from someone who loathed and feared running into an individual who loves to run could inspire a few people and I wanted to have the opportunity to share it on a larger scale.

I hope that someone who has read my posts over the past few months has found the inspiration and strength needed to lace up their shoes and hit the pavement for the first time. If this happens either now or in the future, then I’ll consider my work a success.

Many people played a big role in helping me cross the finish line, and I’ll give them the thanks to which they’re entitled in a future post.

A few people have already asked me what I’m planning on doing next, and I’ll address that in a future post too.

For now, though, I’ll end this post by thanking God for helping me get through this entire process. In retrospect, the past 12 weeks were a lot of fun and I will look fondly upon many of my long, victorious training runs. However, there were many days on which I didn’t feel like running and many times during the process during which I was concerned about an injury.

Each time, God gave me the strength and willpower to get out there and put in the hard work that nobody sees and the faith to believe that He can and would keep my body strong. Additionally, God has used my running to help me transform from someone who constantly struggled with self-doubt and low self-esteem into an individual who believes that he is capable of accomplishing great things in life.

Thanks for reading, everyone, and God bless you!