After I stayed up later than I probably should have typing up my last post, I went to bed feeling surprisingly calm about the Northern Ohio Marathon.
Predictably, I had trouble falling and staying asleep. At one point, I checked my phone and saw that it was 5:00AM, and I thought to myself, “In one hour you’re going to be getting ready for one of the biggest events of your life.” I’m not sure how I fell back asleep after that thought, but I did, because my 6:00AM alarm seemed like one of the most abrupt wakeup calls I’ve ever gotten in my lifetime.
As I scurried around getting ready, I noticed an awful smell coming from the living room. When I went in to get my GPS watch and iPod, I noticed that Butters had an accident on the floor. I hadn’t really factored in doggie cleanup time into my morning schedule, but I knew that I had to get that cleaned up. This put me behind schedule and I was pretty angry with him, especially when I wound up getting to the finish line with about a minute to spare before the start.
Later on, as I ran along during the first mile, I saw a “Lost Dog” poster advertising a lost dog with a reward of several thousand dollars. (I saw many more of the same poster on the rest of the course too. I hope they have located him!) This poster also said not to approach the dog because he was very shy. Seeing and reading this reminded me of how Butters was when we first met him at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter. He wouldn’t come near us, wouldn’t chase after a toy, and he showed no emotion when we went up to him and petted him. At that point, all of the residual anger and frustration that I had with our pup melted away. Sure, he can be a handful at times, but I’m sure glad that he’s part of our lives.
Sheila soon joined me downstairs, and she told me that she felt pretty nauseous and ill from bad acid reflux that she had on Saturday night. (She later told me that she felt as bad as she did on Good Friday when she went to the MetroHealth ER!) I told her that I’d be OK on my own, but she insisted on coming along, so we headed out. Miraculously, I didn’t forget anything.
The trip took a lot longer than I had remembered…and I got to the parking lot with about five minutes to spare. I started to panic because I had to use the restroom. I always have a lot of trouble with one particular bathroom activity before a race, but I knew that I didn’t want to stop to use a port-a-potty for this on the course. Getting to the starting line required going up a hill, and I felt a bit winded after ascending the hill. More panic set in when I saw the long lines for the port-a-potties. I told myself that this was a chip-timed race and I could start late, but at the same time I didn’t want to be running the entire 26.2 completely isolated from other runners. When I got to the line, I learned that some of those who were waiting were running the 5K which started in 30 minutes, and they offered to let me go ahead. I was elated, and I was even more elated by the clean toilet seat (a rarity at a race!) that allowed me to get out of there in about a minute.
I did what stretching I could before the announcer told us that we were going to start, and I hopped into the back and began to walk towards the starting line. On the way, I collected myself and told myself aloud that I had been building up to this moment for a year and a half and that I wasn’t going to fail now. As I crossed the starting line, I felt a sense of excitement and absolutely no fear or nervousness.
The first few miles went by pretty quickly. I didn’t put on any music and soaked in the entire experience. Most of the race was held within residential areas, and there were a good number of people out on their front lawns cheering us on.
During the Cleveland Marathon half, I noticed that I started to develop a bit of a mental wall at around Mile 4, and the same thing happened here. This was a bit concerning, seeing as I had 22.2 miles left to go in this race, but I did my best to push through it. The water stops on the course were located about every 2 miles, and I focused on pushing through with the goal of making it to the next water stop and treating myself to a walk and sports drink break. The marathoners split off from the half marathoners around Mile 5, the field thinned out considerably, and I started to feel a bit isolated.
Even though I was going slow in general and walking through each water stop, I noticed that my mile splits were well under 11:00 minutes\mile. Although time was far down my list of concerns, I was glad to see that I was able to post this type of time without expending too much energy.
Mile 8 marked the first part of the course on which I hadn’t driven when I visited the area on Monday. I had gotten lost while out there and once my frustration with the entire government shutdown and Towpath Marathon took over I gave up and headed home. In retrospect, I wish I had tried harder to drive the entire course, because I immediately began to feel a bit disoriented. The small field meant that I didn’t really have anyone to follow, and my mood began to become worse. We were running on sidewalks for long periods of time around this time, which made the run feel more like a training run and not like a true marathon.
My mood did perk up a bit when I saw two neighbors with conflicting signs about Mentor’s plan to control the deer population with bow hunting; both signs were extremely polarizing and I highly doubt that either of them were going to change anyone’s mind. I was going to stop and take a picture, but I didn’t want to lose the time, especially because I was preparing to make sure that I had plenty of time left for walking breaks later in the race.
I saw my dad and stepmom at Mile 10. They had a bag full of helpful supplies, and I took advantage of the energy chews, tissues, and water. My stepmom had packed energy jelly beans as well, and while I really wanted to try them, I figured that my first marathon wasn’t the best time to do so. Seeing them was an immense relief and it perked me up considerably!
Miles 10-13 had a decent level of crowd support, which was nice. Along the way, I saw Lake Catholic High School. We played them in football during my sophomore year, and that game was notable because it was the first football loss in which I had ever participated at St. Ignatius High School way back in 1996. I served as a statistician for the team for three memorable years, and those are some of the fondest memories that I have of my four years at St. Ignatius. For those of you who don’t know, St. Ignatius has a great football tradition and we have won 11 state championships since 1988. Our loss to Lake Catholic ended a 25 game winning streak that seemed like it could never end, and I remember feeling incredibly disappointed on the long, rainy drive home that night. (Of course, that heartbreak was nothing compared to the heartbreak that I felt each year after we lost in the final minutes to Canton McKinley two seasons in a row.) As I ran past Lake Catholic, I thought about the disappointment of that night and I told myself that there was no way that I was going to head home disappointed today.
Sheila had told me that she would be waiting with our friend Dan at Mile 12. I saw them in the distance, and as I ran towards them, I saw a third person cheering with them. As I got closer, I saw that it was my friend Matt! I’ve known Matt since my freshman year of college, and he wrote the first running blog that I ever read when he ran the Chicago Marathon back in 2008. (I actually read it fairly often during my own training because we used the same training plan and I wanted to see how he felt during each step of the plan.) Sheila told me that she was feeling much better, and this in turn made me feel better too.
Shortly thereafter, I crossed the timing pad for the 13.1 split which was located on Route 306 and I told myself that all I had left to do was 13.1 miles, a distance that I had conquered multiple times with no difficulty during my training. The knowledge that I was halfway done gave me a boost and the trip down Route 306 went relatively quickly, and the great view of Lake Erie at the end of the road was spectacular.
To my delight, family and friends were spread throughout this part of the course. I saw Sheila and Dan again around Mile 14.5, which perked me up again. I have only known Dan for less than a year, and I was really touched by the fact that he was willing to come out, support me, and drive Sheila around. I saw my dad and stepmom multiple times in this area as well, and their encouragement and supplies were a real blessing.
Around Mile 16, we headed onto another part of the course with which I was unfamiliar. When I had driven to this area, I couldn’t find a road and I figured that the course would have to consist of a trail at some point.
Sure enough, we ran through about a mile or so of a forested area on what appeared to be a crushed limestone trail. This was a bit like the Towpath and the forest was beautiful!
As I ran, I took a look at my GPS watch and realized that my remaining mileage was now in the single digits. Considering that I still felt that I had a good bit left in my tank, this was very encouraging.
Once I emerged from the forest, I proceeded to cover the next few miles of the course, which were located in residential neighborhoods. For some reason, crowd support was much thinner here. I felt myself slowly starting to fade, but I kept on doggedly moving forward and I told myself that I had done too well thus far to give less than my absolute best here. This was another part of the course with which I was unfamiliar, and as I look back on the race, every part of the course on which I hadn’t previously driven seemed to drag on forever and was an area in which I tended to run much more tentatively and hesitantly.
I thought we would be reaching Mentor Headlands a lot earlier than we actually did, and by the time we got there (around Mile 20.5), I was feeling pretty beat. My dad and stepmom positioned themselves at the entrance to Headlands and I was grateful for the opportunity to reload with their supplies.
My training plan had only taken me to Mile 20, and many people had told me that Miles 20-26.2 were the most difficult miles of the marathon. They were right. I have been to Headlands many times, and I was hoping that visiting a place in which I have many fond memories would lift my spirits. No luck. The course wasn’t very well marked here either. I finally took a few non-water stop rest breaks just to see if they would help my legs give me a bit more, and while they helped, I found myself wanting to walk more and more. My legs and thighs began to start hurting around this time too.
After bidding adieu to my dad and stepmom as I departed Headlands, I headed off for the last 4.5 miles in what was a very lonely and desolate part of the course.
It’s a shame that some of the toughest miles were in a pretty boring place with no crowd support. I think I probably saw only 3 people for the next mile and a half. This area of the course wasn’t exactly flat either, and I found myself walking up hills to conserve energy. In an effort to help push myself along, I thought about the 5 mile loop that I run on the Towpath and reminded myself of how easy it had been to run those 5 miles earlier in the week.
Miles 23-26.2 consisted of the part of the course on which we began the marathon, and when I saw some familiar sights, I knew that the end was in sight. I thought about how all that I had left to do was a 5K and that the distance would fly by if I didn’t focus on how far I had left to go. My ability to do math (which isn’t all that great anyway!) was fading, and while I was relatively sure that finishing in under 5 hours was feasible, I wasn’t completely sure about that. Therefore, I tried to limit my walk breaks to hills and water stops. I wasn’t totally successful, but at least I tried.
Once I reached Mile 24, I knew that the course essentially consisted of a straight shot to the finish line with only one small turn and I felt myself gathering strength for a strong finish. When I got to Mile 25, I told myself that I essentially only had 1 mile left and I thought about how many times I had run one mile without any difficulty at all.
Without realizing it, I found myself running harder and faster as I conquered my last mile. Around Mile 25.75, I fast-forwarded to the end of my playlist and I heard the familiar swells of Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Soundtrack blast triumphantly through my headphones. As the remaining distance grew shorter and shorter, I started choking up as the realization that I was about to complete my first marathon began to hit me like a ton of bricks.
Once I turned the corner onto 2nd Street, I saw the inflatable finish line sign, looked down at my watch, and realized that I was well on my way to a sub-5 hour finish. By this time, I was pretty choked up and feeling overcome with emotion. I didn’t want to look like a fool in my finish line photos, but I also wanted to soak in and appreciate the emotion of the moment.
Sheila met me far up the street and yelled out, “Don’t leave anything on the course!” My dad told her the same thing earlier this summer when she ran her first 5K from start to finish, and when I heard her voice, I burst into a full-out sprint. The energy for this must have come from pure adrenaline, because I could barely run only a mile or so earlier!
There was a nice-sized crowd cheering around the finish line, and I powered my way through feeling pretty jubilant, to say the least. I wasn’t sure if I would either burst out crying or wind up screaming as I crossed the finish line, and as I slowed down, I found myself screaming “YEAHHH!” and throwing my fist triumphantly in the air. I know that this isn’t great race etiquette, but I think the volunteers probably could tell that this was my first marathon and everyone got a good laugh out of it.
Shortly thereafter, Sheila appeared, and we celebrated.
Reading various race recaps has shown me that runners have a variety of post-race reactions. Some pass out, some vomit, some burst out crying, and others can’t pee normally for awhile. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to faint, I focused more on trying to stretch out. I started to feel a lot of pain in my legs as time went on, and walking became an increasingly hard exercise. I kept drinking water and made sure that I wouldn’t cramp up. The organizers had an excellent spread of food out, including some delicious-looking pizza, but the idea of walking around with it seemed far more trouble than it was worth due to the fact that walking was becoming much harder than running!
Those of us who registered late were told that we wouldn’t get our medals for a few weeks, but somehow they wound up with extra medals. A race volunteer offered me one, and I gladly accepted.
Although I was in pain, I didn’t want to leave and I wanted to savor the moment for as long as possible. However, I eventually came to grips with the fact that going home, taking a nice hot shower, changing into sweats, and enjoying the Browns game would be the best thing for me at that point, so we headed out and I hobbled down the hill to the parking lot.
The rest of the day was spent icing my legs and feet, suffering through the Browns’ loss, and responding to the many messages of congratulations that came my way on social media. Although moving required herculean amounts of effort, I did manage to muster up the energy to stumble out to Quaker Steak and Lube for a celebration with some close friends.
Needless to say, it was a day to remember! I have much more to say about the aftermath of the marathon, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, though, I’d like to extend a quick thank you to everyone who supported me in some way, shape, or form. The words of support on Twitter, Facebook, and in person meant a ton. Of course, this post would be incomplete without a gigantic thank you to Jesus. The road to the starting line was filled with injuries, government shutdowns, dog bites, and self-doubt, and the next 26.2 miles to the finish line were filled with a wide spectrum of emotions and physical pain. I was able to make it through, though, because I knew that Jesus was with me each step of the way. Without Him, I wouldn’t have had the courage or confidence to attempt my first 5K, let alone my first marathon. Thank you, Jesus, for saving my soul through your death on the cross and saving my life through helping me lose weight and becoming a runner!