For much of the past year, I logged most of my miles on the section of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail that was located by our former residence in Tremont. Although we’ve moved a bit farther west, I still enjoy sneaking away to the Towpath whenever possible and logging some miles on the most serene and beautiful place in Cleveland. The Towpath Trilogy races are some of my favorite races; they are very well-organized, the race fees are reasonable, and the courses are spectacular.

I registered at the last minute for the 2013 Towpath 5 Miler with my buddy Eric, and I never got around to writing a race recap. I hadn’t thought about running this race until he asked me if I was going to run it, and when I realized that it was so close to my house, I figured that it was a no-brainer. Last year, I finished it in 44:47 (8:57 min\mi pace).

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Me and my friends Ramona and Eric at the 2013 Towpath 5 Miler

Heading into the 2014 Towpath 5 Miler, I was shooting for a PR. My goal was to run an average pace between 8:15 and 8:30, which is the pace at which I have been running during my long training runs. I always make “secret” goals in my head for races that I think are somewhat unattainable, and my “secret” goal for this race was to run it in under 40 minutes (8 min\mi pace).

As usual, I ran behind in the morning, and a construction-related detour only added to my stress. Fortunately, I got to the finish line with about 10 minutes left before the starting bell. I think that I subconsciously walked really quickly because it was unexpectedly cold outside and I needed to warm up! I met up with Eric, who was celebrating his birthday and excited for a great race. We also bumped into our friends Ramona and Angie from church.

We lined up towards the back at the start. I saw that my GPS watch finally caught a signal as we were heading towards the starting line, but when I pressed the start button, something happened and it didn’t work properly. I eventually got it going, but I wasn’t exactly sure if the data would be accurate. I reminded myself that I had run watchless at the 2014 Bay Village Snoball 5K and that I had done just fine without it, so I kept on going.

Starting in the back meant that I had to weave around a fair number of runners in order to get to my race pace. I reached a pretty good pace by the time we entered the Towpath itself and I began to hit my stride once I started running on the familiar path on which I had logged hundreds of miles last year. The first two miles of the Towpath are pretty windy, and I did my best to run tangents.

When I passed the Mile 1 sign, I took a look at my watch and noticed that I was at approximately 1.02 miles. I was glad that the watch was relatively on point, but I remembered how a slightly inaccurate watch killed me at the 2013 Kinsman KTown 5K and I told myself that I shouldn’t rely too heavily on it.

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Picture I took in February on the Towpath; this was the view during Mile 1. Gorgeous!

As I was cruising along during Mile 2, which was located on an extension of the main Towpath Trail, I felt last night’s dinner coming back to bite me in the butt (literally!). On Saturday night, I carbo-loaded at Olive Garden. I thought that the heavier white sauces wouldn’t be good to eat the night before a race, so I went with the Spicy Diavolo sauce on my pasta. In retrospect, this was a terrible idea, and I wish I had learned another lesson from the 2013 Kinsman KTown 5K (when I ate a burger loaded with fried jalapenos on the night before a race) and opted for something else. I thought long and hard about stopping at the restroom that was located at Mile 2.7, but I figured that I would have no shot at running it in under 40 minutes if I did that, so I powered through and hoped I could make it.

At around Mile 2.7, the course rejoined the main Towpath Trail and we began to head back towards the finish area. I was feeling a bit weathered at this point, but I reminded myself that I had run the remaining distance many, many times and that I was more than halfway done. Familiarity with a course cannot be understated!

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Mile 3 went through this part of the Towpath; I took this picture last summer.

Heading into the race, my plan was to start sprinting to the finish once I ascended the slight hill that was located at around Mile 4.5. Last year, I slightly misjudged the location of the finish line and I didn’t start sprinting early enough. However, Mile 3 felt like an eternity and I felt my pace drop a bit. I told myself that I had a good chance of finishing in under 40 minutes and that I couldn’t let up, but I felt myself majorly running out of steam by this point. By the time I ascended the hill, I didn’t have much left. I figured that I would regain my strength during the next tenth or so of a mile—which was pretty straight—and then sprint to the finish from there.

I decided that a change of music could possibly help matters a bit, so I switched over to Avicii’s “Dear Boy”. This song pumps me up so much and the long instrumental sections of the song are great for running quickly at a steady pace. In the distance, I saw the informational display that usually served as my stopping point during my training runs, and I told myself that I needed to really push it because the race was almost over. Once the music kicked in, my legs automatically began to run much faster and I powered through the remaining distance and across the finish line!

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The end is in sight! (Photo courtesy of the Towpath Marathon)

I crossed the finish line with something like 40:07 on the official race clock. Much like last year’s Towpath Half Marathon, I thought that I had pulled off my “secret” goal, but I knew that I’d need to see the official race results to know for sure.

I stumbled to the nearest port-a-potty, and fortunately no one was in it! I can’t think of a time when I’ve been happier to see a bathroom. I know this is gross, but if you’re a runner, I’m sure that you can relate!

Once that was over, I headed to grab some water and cheer Eric on through the finish line. Although the temperature had increased, the weather was still somewhat cold, and some of the water actually froze a bit in the cups!

Shortly thereafter, Eric powered on through the finish line with a time of 50:52.1.

After the race, I met Michelle from the Runner’s World Sub-30 Club on Facebook. (Side note: All of you should join! The Sub-30 Club is a group of encouraging, fun, and knowledgeable runners. Even if you haven’t yet run a sub-30 (a 5K in under 30 minutes), you’re more than welcome to join. There are many folks in the group who have not yet achieved this milestone and I enjoy cheering them along their journey.)

We hit up the postrace party and grabbed some food before heading back to our respective homes to get ready for church.

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Eric and I after the race. The photos from the Towpath folks are SO great. The fact that they had a photographer taking finish line pics for free is just one example of why these races are some of the best that Greater Cleveland has to offer! (Photo courtesy of the Towpath Marathon)

After church, I checked the official times posted on the race website and saw that I had finished in 39:59.02! This is more than a 4 minute improvement from my previous time of 44:47.

What’s the moral of this story, folks? Every single step counts. Even if I had let up just once, I wouldn’t have achieved my goal. If I hadn’t consciously run tangents, I wouldn’t have achieved my goal. Leave it all out there on race morning; there’s plenty of time later in the day to recover!

Needless to say, I’m thrilled with my performance in the Towpath 5 Miler. God’s been great to me so far in 2014; I’ve had two excellent races, a great season of training, and most importantly I haven’t had any serious injuries. I am excited for the remainder of my training before the 2014 Rite Aid Cleveland Half Marathon!

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