After two great “long” training runs, I was pretty pumped for the Towpath Ten-Ten.

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I’m not sure why I enjoy everything Towpath-related so much, but I do. Perhaps it is because the entire area is so calm and serene and very close to my house, which means I can shoot over there and sneak a daytime run in during the week. Maybe it’s because the area seems like Narnia in many respects. Once I park my car and step through the “wardrobe” of the trailhead, I instantly find myself in a quiet area in which wildlife are constantly speaking, cars are happily absent, and green lushness is everywhere. Perhaps it’s because I feel very safe there; even when I was running there at night last weekend, I felt completely at ease.

Anyhow, I got a great night of sleep on Friday night because I don’t ever sleep well on the night before a race, and I headed down to packet packup early on Saturday before the wedding that we were scheduled to attend.

The wedding was fun and I enjoyed chatting with several folks who I don’t get to see very often.

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My friend Steph took this picture – I had one plate this size with Indian food and one plate this size with Chinese food. Throw two egg custards and other sweets into the mix and you’ll see why I was afraid I’d need to be wheeled across the finish line!

Unfortunately, I ate way too much Chinese and Indian food at the wedding and I was afraid that I was going to pay for it on race day!

Weather-wise, I’ve been blessed in 2013. With the exception of the very end of the Kinsman KTown 5K, the weather has been fantastic during each race and my bleary eyes have been treated to amazing sunrises on the morning of each race. Unfortunately, when I woke up and saw the weather on Sunday morning, I was glad that I had encouraged Sheila to stay home and sleep in because it looked awful.

I hadn’t thought much about how inclement weather would affect my race strategy, but I managed to think quickly and decide that I should wear a junky tee-shirt over my race shirt and change into my compression socks at the starting line and just ditch all of my old clothing at the starting line.

The weather got worse on the way there and I stepped in several puddles and mud on the one mile walk to the starting line. As I walked, I started to get worried about my friend Eric, who was riding his bike down to the starting line. I didn’t have my phone with me because I was afraid that it would get destroyed by rain and I began to wonder if he was calling me. Shortly thereafter, I saw him and our mutual friend Wayne riding past the starting line. He told me that he hadn’t registered yet, and I was afraid that they wouldn’t let him register because the race was about to start.

We congregated at the starting line and waited for what seemed like an eternity before I heard the familiar cowbell that signifies the start of a race. Because I felt pretty discombobulated before the race and wasn’t in a peaceful frame of mind, I wasn’t thinking clearly and I wound up starting way in the back. I don’t mind starting in the back when I’m running a race with the goal of finishing without stopping to walk, but starting in the back can make it difficult to get off to the solid start that’s necessary when running with a time goal in mind. As I mentioned in my training posts, my goal was to finish this race with a pace under 10 minutes\mile.

I decided to change things up and start off with a rock song rather than my usual rap\electronic\hiphop fare, so I led off the race with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”. I heard this song while running the half marathon and I found that it really pumped me up! This was a great choice and I found myself flying past large numbers of runners during the first mile.

Because I started at the back, I thought that I had gotten off to a bit of a slow start at first. When I saw the first mile marker, I looked down and saw that I ran my first mile at a pace around 8:30 per mile. I knew that pace was unsustainable over the 10 mile distance, but I absolutely hate running from “behind” pace-wise and feeling like I need to be constantly pushing myself to make up for lost time.

Miles 2-3 felt pretty long. I wasn’t thrilled about running along the Old Rockside Road Bridge (it needs repair badly and I was afraid I was going to trip on a pothole!) and there isn’t much to see along Canal Road. To my delight, I saw Eric and Wayne heading in the opposite direction as I headed back towards Canal Road. I was grateful that he got to register, especially after he rode down there in the rain. I’m not sure why I expect anything less than the best from the Towpath folks, though, considering that my first two experiences with Towpath races have been top-notch!

Of course, running across the white bridges was a highlight of the race.

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Eric took this picture – I think it does a great job of showing how deceptively steep these bridges can be!

As I descended the second white bridge and began to run on parts of the Towpath on which I had run before, I started to feel better because I was still well on my way to satisfying my goal time and because I knew that this part of the race was easily manageable. I reminded myself of how I had run this exact route during one of my half marathon training runs on a day much rainier than this and that all of the training and running that I had done in the meantime would make the run go much easier.

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This part of the Towpath is called “The Hidden Valley” – I think the fact that I heard that term and thought, “This isn’t The Hidden Valley…Rivendell is the real hidden valley!” shows that I’ve been overdosing on Middle-Earth way too much lately!

Regardless of how many mind tricks I played on myself, though, I felt like I was beginning to really run out of steam on this part of the course. While my final time reflects the fact that I maintained a decent pace, this part of the run was a major struggle. Even though I recalled when I had run in this area on specific training runs and did my best to recall when I had easily conquered these sections, the parts of the Towpath before and after the Lower 40 Trail dragged majorly.

Eventually, though, I found myself heading back and I soon realized that I had not much more than a 5K left to go. I began to push myself a bit more, and once I passed under the I-77 bridge I knew that the end was near. The first white bridge seemed much steeper than it had on the way out, and my feet were beginning to hurt more than they had previously hurt during my training runs. I told myself that I had the rest of the day to recover and that it would be terrible to let up with my goal in sight, and I kept powering onward.

After I descended the second white bridge, I sucked it up and began to run as hard as I could. My sprints didn’t last long, but what I could muster up at that point in the race was better than nothing.

Once I saw the finish line, I felt a surge of adrenaline and began to run harder. By this time, I started to feel like I had nothing left and was really losing steam, so I started to tell myself things aloud to help keep up my motivation level. (Apologies to anyone reading this who had minor children along the side of the course and heard several four-letter words…)

I was beaten down, but I hadn’t totally lost all of my enthusiasm for the day, and as I ran past a guy who I didn’t know whom I saw was running alone, I told him that we needed to finish strong. I’m glad he took it well!

I had put on “The White Tree” from the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Soundtrack and I began to think about Pippin’s bravery as he climbed up the tower to light the beacon at Gondor and about how his bravery helped save Middle-Earth. (I posted the video below for all of you to watch in case you haven’t seen it before.) I told myself that it was time to run with everything that I had left in me and to run with no regrets.

Around this time, the crowd support really picked up and I could hear people cheering just as loudly as they did at the Cleveland Marathon. The feeling was really intoxicating and I felt like a conquering hero!

As I felt my energy start to give out, I heard the guy to whom I had spoken earlier yell out, “Don’t let me pass you!” from behind me. I’m glad he did that, because it gave me the burst of energy I needed to throw myself across the finish line.

I actually remembered to turn off my GPS watch shortly after crossing! My “chip time” was 1:35:17 and a 9:32 min\mi pace. Hurrah!

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Somehow, I managed to make it across the finish line without taking out the nice young boy in my path who handing out bananas. I kept moving so I wouldn’t cramp up, but by this time my adrenaline had worn completely away and the pains of the race began to set in. Walking was a chore and ascending the small incline on the side of the road felt like walking up Mount Everest.

I consumed what was probably a gallon of water and Gatorade, and although walking was a difficult endeavor at this point I wanted to make sure that Eric got in strong. I hobbled down the Towpath and waited for him. Awhile later, I saw Wayne riding his bike and Eric toughing out the final mile. I joined him all the way to the finish line, shouting words of encouragement all the way. I was really proud of him!

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Two warriors!

We relaxed at the finish line for awhile before heading over to the breakfast. The line was long, but the food was great.

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Forgot to take a picture until long after I destroyed most of my plate of chicken tenders, eggs, Lube chips, and sausage!

I spent some time listening to the guitar player who was providing musical entertainment. By this time, the rain had resumed, and as I was getting ready to go, I heard the familiar introduction of R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon”.  R.E.M. has been one of my favorite bands since 1995 when I saw them with my mom—whose idea it was to attend the concert!—at Gund Arena. As I hobbled towards my car, I couldn’t think of a more perfect ending to another great and triumphant race!