I always hope that the last week or two before a race will be tranquil.

I have visions of heading into a race feeling fully rested, relaxed, hydrated, and confident.

How many times has that happened?

Once.

Ironically enough, I wound up having my worst race ever (the Run For Justice) when I headed into a race feeling great about everything. I do recall that my foot did hurt a bit the day before that run, but I do remember heading into the race feeling well-rested, stress-free, and excited.

If history repeats itself, then I’m shaping up to have a fantastic half marathon on Sunday at the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, because last week was a heckuva week!

The end of the semester is always a busy time for educators, and I was swamped with grading and other work-related responsibilities. We also had a lot of activities going on with family and friends. As life would have it, many previously unforeseen commitments came up throughout the week as well.

Case in point: someone decided that it was a good idea to drop off a litter of kittens outside of my church (Scranton Road Bible Church) on Wednesday evening.

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Seeing all of the kittens huddling together broke my heart. Dumping them and driving away was so cruel!

Since I was the only one there who wasn’t involved with our Good News Kids and Youth Group meetings, I took the kittens down to the Cleveland Animal Protective League so that someone could adopt them.

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Fortunately, the APL agreed to take them. I wasn’t sure what I would do if they would have made me make an appointment to turn them in later in the month! Later that evening, we asked Butters if we should adopt one when we saw a stray cat walking across our lawn and he responded with a short, terse bark. Guess that answered that question!

In retrospect, this was a fun and unique experience. At the time, though, all I could think about as I watched the sun getting lower and lower in the sky was the fact that I was almost convinced that I would miss my run.

The wait was worth it, though, because I absolutely nailed my 5 mile run once I finally got home and raced against the sunset. I ran the part of the Cleveland Marathon course that goes through down West 25th and through Tremont in my run. I was shooting for a 9 minute pace but I wound up going much faster. When I saw that I had a realistic chance of finishing under 44 minutes, I decided to hold nothing back and I ran as hard as I possibly could. I ended up with a 43:48 time. That’s my best time ever for a 5 miler!

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As the week progressed, I looked ahead and figured that getting in my longest run of my training schedule just wasn’t going to work on Sunday. Depending on how I felt during the run, I planned on doing between 10 and 11 miles. The awful weather on Sunday sealed the deal and I decided to postpone my run to Monday.

Of course, when Monday rolled around, something came up just as I was about to head out for my long run. I was already nervous about running 10-11 miles, and dealing with the added frustration didn’t help matters much.

I decided to run a round-trip loop that included the part of the Cleveland Marathon course that goes from Edgewater to the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge because I had never previously run in most of these areas. (My route can be viewed here.)

As I drove to Edgewater, the frustration and stress of the past week began to get to me. Driving downtown through rush hour didn’t help matters much. I wanted to drive on the part of the Shoreway on which the first part of the marathon occurs so that I could gain a sense of the elevation, but I probably should have picked a better time to do it.

As I drove, I heard the new Fall Out Boy song on the radio. I’m normally not much of a Fall Out Boy fan but I do like their new song! As I listened to the “light it up” chorus over and over again, I told myself that I was going to get out there and light up these 11 miles and that I wasn’t going to allow the stress of the past week to ruin several months of training!

I parked at Edgewater, stretched, said a prayer, and headed out.

When the first song that came up on my Pandora station was Kanye West’s “Stronger”, I knew that I was in for a great run.

The first 4 or so miles were very enjoyable and went by pretty quickly. Running through new neighborhoods was fun and I didn’t feel any fatigue.

I really enjoy using Pandora on my phone to provide me with a diverse selection of music on my runs, but there are times when connectivity problems can be extremely distracting. After I turned from West 74th onto Franklin, my stream went out for about a mile. Messing around with my phone while I ran was a real hassle, and the stretch from Franklin to Lorain seemed to drag on forever.

I consumed a Strawberry Banana Gu while on Lorain Avenue, and I felt it kick in around the time when I turned onto West 25th Street. The small incline on West 25th isn’t insurmountable, but I imagine that it won’t be easy to conquer after I’ve run almost 9 miles on Sunday!

As I ran down Starkweather and through Tremont, I suddenly became very overwhelmed. I live in Tremont, and this part of the course is very familiar to me. I’ve run there on a weekly basis for almost a year now. I began my run at Edgewater, which is relatively far from my neighborhood. Realizing that I had a long way back to Edgewater and the end of my run was a bit daunting and doubt about my ability to make it back began to creep into my mind.

Around this time, I thought about one of the most inspirational scenes from The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. In this scene, Frodo is encouraging Sam to eat while they are on the journey to Mordor—a journey that few people expected Frodo and Sam to be able to complete, let alone return home alive and in once piece. Sam responds by telling Frodo that he is rationing their food. When Frodo asks why he was doing that, Sam responded by saying that he was saving it for the journey home.

I thought about Sam’s optimism and his stubborn belief that they were going to make it through the journey alive and in one piece, and I told myself that I needed to believe in myself, trust in my training, and keep going step by step until I reached my destination.

The miles through Tremont and Ohio City went by relatively quickly, and I turned from West 28th onto Detroit knowing that I had conquered the majority of the run!

By this time, I was approaching the 9 mile mark. I began to feel a bit of pain in my legs as I ran down Detroit, but my feet felt fine. The unexpectedly long stretch down Detroit felt like an eternity, and I began to feel pretty hungry as I passed great restaurants like Happy Dog, Latitude 41, Sweet Moses, and XYZ. I had a few Clif Shot Blox on me, and I ate them in an attempt to trick myself into believing that I was eating.

Once I turned from Detroit onto Lake, I knew that the end was in sight. Although my legs were hurting slightly, I knew that heading into race day with the knowledge that I could do 11 out of the 13.1 miles would provide me with confidence and decided to push forward for 11 miles. Around this time, Tupac Shakur’s classic “How Do You Want It” streamed through on my Pandora station. I love this song and it carried me down Lake Road all the way to West Boulevard.

As I ran down West Boulevard and into Edgewater, I felt more joyful than I had felt in a long time. I reflected upon how strongly I wrestled with whether to do the 10K or the half marathon and how grateful I am for the fact that I had the faith and courage to believe that I should attempt the half. I took off my headphones and ran the last quarter-mile in peaceful silence, saying prayers of thanksgiving to God for carrying me through 12 injury-free weeks and for helping me to have the physical strength and confidence to be able to progress through my training plan during a very busy few months!

Looking down and seeing that my watch had changed over to 11 miles felt exhilarating!

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The fact that my time was a bit slower than my target time was a slight downer. (My time would be more accurate if I was a bit more skillful with my GPS watch and I could trust myself to stop and start the thing without ruining my time!) I don’t think that 10 min\mile is an unreasonable goal for my first half marathon. However, I reminded myself that my primary goal for my first half marathon has always been to finish without stopping to walk and that I have plenty of races in the future during which I can set and work towards time goals.

I spent a few minutes stretching, walking, and enjoying the beautiful weather at Edgewater Park and admiring Cleveland’s beautiful skyline before heading home to a delicious dinner of Sheila’s homemade pizza and Season 2 of Game of Thrones.

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I am so excited to run my first half marathon in the best city in America. I love Cleveland!

Although I’m planning on doing one short 2 mile run on Thursday, I’m grateful to have the majority of my training successfully completed and in the books. All sorts of people, ranging from those who I see on a weekly basis at church to people whom I only know via Twitter, have been incredibly encouraging. I’ll never forget seeing a near-unanimous vote in favor of the half when I asked my Facebook friends for help in deciding between the half and the 10K, and the fact that so many people who know me well believed in me has helped me to believe in myself. It’s been difficult at times, but it’s been a lot of fun too. Most importantly, I’m confident that the hard work that I’ve invested will pay off on race day!

If you see me at the Expo or on race day, be sure to say hi!