Whew! We’re finally back from vacation and finally on summer break. This summer has been much busier than I had expected that it would be.

I was pretty excited for the 2013 Lakewood Summer Meltdown.

This is the race that led me onto my running journey, and I’ll never forget my final ascent up Belle Avenue as I realized that I was actually going to complete my first 5K!

As discussed in my last post, my main focus this time around was to help Sheila prepare well for this race and to help her achieve her goal of running the entire 3.1 miles without stopping to walk.

I told her that I’d run with her the entire time and cheer her on, and I didn’t do any hard training in an effort to improve upon the 5K PR that I set at the Bay Village Snowball 5K earlier in the year.

While PRs are nice, I must say that spending the night before a race with a feeling of excitement sure beats the way I usually feel on the night before a race. Most of the time, I can’t sleep and I’m racked with worry. Barring a catastrophic injury, I knew that I’d be able to run the 3.1 relatively easily, and I was able to relax with Sheila on the Friday night before the race and enjoy the evening.

The Lakewood Summer Meltdown takes place in the evening. While I prefer night races in general, the downside is that I find the entire day to be consumed with thoughts about the race and it’s hard to focus on much of anything else. We put on some episodes of Season 2 of Game of Thrones late in the afternoon to kill some time. Sheila said that she was motivated by Tywin Lannister’s speech during the Battle of the Blackwater. Personally, I thought it was good, but nothing beats the dialogue before the charge during the Battle of Helmsdeep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers!

We got there in plenty of time and found an excellent place to park. After walking around for a bit, we eventually met up with my stepmom and brother.

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My dad was taking care of some home remodeling work that ran far longer than he had anticipated, but fortunately he was able to make it to the starting line right before the start of the race! Shortly before the start of the race, my brother—who won this race last year—made his way to the front of the pack. We stayed far in the back.

I was glad that Sheila seemed pretty relaxed at the start. I tend to get really nervous and tense during the first mile or so, and I was happy that she didn’t let the pressure of the moment get to her.

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Eventually, the starting bell rang and we were off!

The congestion during the first part of the race on Belle Avenue was a lot worse than it was last year. Perhaps this was due to the fact that there were a lot of parked cars along the route. The number of runners in this year’s race was much greater than those who ran in last year’s race, and the race organizers will definitely need to limit street parking next year or change the route if the field for the 2014 Lakewood Summer Meltdown increases again! To make matters worse, there were a lot of fast people who had lined up improperly toward the back and who were attempting to shoot through the slower runners. I made sure that Sheila kept to the side far out of the path of people so that she wouldn’t get jostled. (Needless to say, I was feeling very protective during this race!)

Eventually, we turned onto Clifton and the congestion cleared out a bit. The run along Clifton this year seemed a bit farther than last year, but Sheila handled it very well. Just like last year, we saw my brother running in the opposite direction down Clifton towards the finish line before we had even finished half of the race!

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My brother nearing the end of the race before we had even finished half of it!

 

Sheila looked great after the first mile. As I saw her striding along, I had absolutely no doubt that she would finish the race without stopping to walk. Last year, I was pretty weathered around the 1.25 mile mark and had to stop around the 1.5 mile mark, but Sheila’s training had prepared her very well for this and I knew she was going to keep going strong!

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Sheila striding along proudly during the first mile

The second mile went by very quickly. Crowd support was pretty strong—unusual for a 5K!—and there were many people out with hoses. This year’s race was a bit hotter than last year’s race, and Sheila took full advantage of the many people who graciously hosed down runners throughout the race.

As was the case last year, the third mile seemed to drag on forever. There isn’t much shade at all on Clifton, and the sun was beating down pretty hard on us as we headed back towards the finish line.

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Running hard during a hot third mile!

Using my GPS watch, I kept careful track of our progress and made sure to remind Sheila several times that the remaining distance that we had left were distances that she was consistently able to conquer during her training. I also compared the remaining distances to familiar stretches of her training runs. Way back in 2008, my friend Matt described how this tactic helped him get through the final stretch of the Chicago Marathon. Although I was pretty much as far from a runner as one could get at that time, I filed that tactic away in my memory and have used it regularly ever since.

Once we turned from Clifton onto Belle, I knew that Sheila was going to achieve her goal and I felt happier and happier as we got closer to the finish line. My brother and father had made their way back towards the course and cheered Sheila along too.

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Less than a half mile to go and she’s smiling!

 I had plans of taking a great shot of Sheila as she crossed the finish line. However, my dad yelled out, “Don’t leave anything out on the course!” when Sheila was about 0.2 miles from the finish line and this prompted Sheila to take off running like a sprinter! I was going to encourage her to sprint to the finish line, but we had never practiced that before and I didn’t want her to strain a muscle or run out of energy prematurely because neither of us knew the extent of her ability to sprint. After watching Sheila run last year, I have always maintained that she had the potential to be a faster runner than I am once we got the asthma situation worked out, and her sprint to the finish line only reinforced my opinion. I couldn’t even get my camera out before she crossed the finish line with a time of 35:12!

We celebrated with my family afterwards and took a few group pictures.

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Shortly thereafter, my dad and stepmom headed home. Sheila and I spent some time enjoying the post-race festival before heading to Melt for a celebratory dinner.

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Cooldown stretch after the race just like a veteran runner!

Sheila was embarrassed when I teared up during my toast to her, but I couldn’t help it! I was so proud of how far she had come in such a short period of time. I was incredibly blessed to have had a relatively successful first 5K experience last year, but Sheila’s experience was much rougher and I would imagine that a lot of people would have decided that running wasn’t for them after an experience like that. Rather than giving up, Sheila had the courage to give running another try. Not only did she set an ambitious goal for herself, but she also worked diligently in brutally hot weather to prepare and she was able to achieve her goal!

At the time, I didn’t think that I could be any more thrilled with how everything turned out, but I am. I have been having some injury issues, so I decided to take things a bit easier towards the end of July while we were traveling and had a very busy schedule so that everything could heal up properly before the stretch run of my Towpath Marathon training kicks in. During these times of rest, Sheila remarked to me that she felt somewhat out of sorts because she hadn’t been running! When I hear comments like that, I know that Sheila’s well on her way to becoming a great lifelong runner.

My injury issues are now mostly (hopefully!) behind me and our hectic schedule has mostly cleared up for a few weeks, and I can’t wait to get back out there with Sheila!