The Towpath Ten-Ten is the second race in the Towpath Trilogy, which are a series of races that are designed to raise money Canalway Partners, the organization that promotes and develop the trails along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath. (The first race was the Towpath Half Marathon and 5 Miler in April.)

Last year, I had some great training runs leading up to last year’s Ten-Ten. Although I came out too fast, I had a great race. As the year went on, though, I realized that I may have come back too quickly after the 2013 Rite Aid Cleveland Half Marathon and the Ten-Ten because I came down with a variety of injuries that sidelined me for much of late June, July, and early August. This year, I decided to take it a bit easier after the 2014 Rite Aid Cleveland Half Marathon and the 2014 St. Joseph Academy Earn Your Spots 5K and focus more on cross-training.

cross training

Core work in June leads to great marathons in October! Loved helping Sheila learn how to use the bench press machine too.

As I planned out my running schedule for the last two weeks before the Towpath Ten-Ten, I decided to do four runs: one 3 miler, one 6 miler, one 9 miler, and one 3 miler.

Each of these runs was very, very difficult. I’m attributing most of the difficulty to the hotter temperatures that have descended upon Greater Cleveland in recent weeks. My 9 miler on Tuesday evening was my worst training run of the year and one of my top 5 worst training runs of all time. My six miler was a hungry run, and I hate running hungry, so I wound up eating 2 pieces of spicy pizza, one pack of Belvita crackers, and one Luna Bar in the hour and a half before the run. This was an awful idea. The heat and the turbulence in my stomach caused me to stop after 3 fast but painful miles and I switched to a 0.5 mile run\0.1 mile walk plan for the rest of the run. Although I got through it, I was exhausted and frustrated by the end. The fact that I didn’t know if my struggle was due to the heat, eating too recent before running, or something else was quite unnerving and I felt my confidence heading for the gutter as race day approached.

9 mile training run

I try to find a silver lining in everything, and my silver lining from this run is that I’ve made major progress in a year’s time. In early 2013, I would have been thrilled with this time for a 9 mile training run!

As the week progressed, the projected temperatures for race day reached 84 and I began to prepare for a tough race. When I first registered, my goal was simply to set a new 10 mile PR. After my tough training runs made it clear that running an 8:00 mile\minute average pace wasn’t a realistic possibility, I subsequently revised my goal and aimed to run it at an 8:30 mile\min average pace for an overall time of 1:25:00.

Heading into the race, I told myself 1,000 times that I absolutely could not go out too fast. While the confidence of an extremely fast first mile is nice, struggling through the remainder of the race is never fun. I also knew that using too much energy early on could prove costly later in the race once the temperature rose and the sun came out.

Believe it or not, I actually made it to the starting line with time to spare. Unfortunately, my buddy Eric did not. This was pretty surprising, as he generally gets to the starting line of a race pretty early! I had picked up our bibs on Saturday and I told him that I’d give him his at the starting line. When the start of the race rolled around, he still wasn’t there and he was about a half mile away on his bike. I talked with the Hermes folks who were manning the starting pad and they said they’d wait five minutes to us to start. I was very grateful that they were willing to wait! By this time, all of the runners had left the starting area. I wish I could have been creative enough to say that I drew upon Forrest Gump and Bubba at this point when I told myself that there was no way I was going to leave my friend, but I only came upon that analogy during the race!

After five minutes passed, I could tell they wanted to leave, and fortunately a very nice woman who was standing there said that she would wait until he arrived to give him his bib. I fired up my GPS watch and crossed the starting pad with no other runner in sight. Shortly thereafter, I bumped into Eric after about a quarter mile and told him where his bib was located.

As I moved through the first mile, I began to think that this was shaping up to be a very interesting and unique race. While I prefer to do my training runs alone because they provide me with the space and time that I need to clear my head, I actually don’t mind running with others during a race. Because there were no other runners or walkers in sight, though, I began to feel like I was doing a virtual 10 miler.

As I ran, I passed by the spot at which I was bitten by a dog last August, and I thought about how God had blessed me with a first aid kit from a factory that just happened to have its front door open that evening. I pondered how that unexpected event actually turned out to give me a lot of confidence as I headed into intense marathon training following a series of prior injuries. I had spent much of the past month or so wondering if I still would be able to run a marathon last fall, and after my mom (a nurse) told me that the dog missed my tendon by an inch, I took it as a sign that I should move forward with training because God had many opportunities to shut me down but healed me time and time again.  I thought about how God’s plans may not always be what we want or expect at first but that God’s plans for me have never, ever been anything but perfect in the end, so I decided to roll with the way everything was going.

On a more selfish note, I began to think about the end of the race. While I recognize the wonders of chip timing, I also began to worry a bit that I would be the absolute last runner to cross the finish line because everyone else had at least an 8 minute advantage, and I began to envision crossing the finish line with nobody but a few dedicated race volunteers hanging around with some scattered cups of water. At the same time, I kept telling myself that I could not try to catch up with the pack if I wanted to have an enjoyable race. Despite my best efforts, I ran under an 8 minute mile for Mile 1.

I did my best to intentionally slow down and I figured that I had plenty of time to spare. Mile 2 was very cool in that it featured the only course change from last year’s race. I loved this change and I told a park ranger after the race that whomever came up with this idea deserves a raise. Rather than running on dusty and bumpy Old Rockside Road and turning around sharply around a cone, we turned around by running south through the parking lot of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, running east across the pedestrian bridge that spans the Cuyahoga River, and turning north on the bridge underneath Rockside Road. During Mile 2, I encountered some other runners and I began to feel much better.

bridge

Great new addition to the course! Love running over the Cuyahoga River. (Photo from Canalway Partners’ race instructions email)

I saw Eric heading in the other direction as I ran north during Mile 3 and I was glad to know that he had gotten started successfully. Shortly thereafter, I saw my friend Michelle from the Runner’s World Sub-30 Group on Facebook.

With my mind fully at ease, I settled into a nice race pace during Mile 3 as we crossed over the stunning two white bridges that span Granger Road and Warner Road. I felt the sun coming out, so I decided to walk quickly through each water stop and drink at least one cup of water.

bridge

Running across these bridges never gets old!

As I moved through the middle miles of the race, I kept an eye on my mile splits and I began to feel better and better as time went on. I wasn’t feeling any fatigue at all, was exerting little energy, and yet I was posting mile splits well under 8:30. Some new additions to my playlist—Fitz and the Tantrums’ “The Walker” and Flo Rida’s “Run”—came on during this time and contributed to my positive mental state.

The middle portion of the race featured an area on which I have done many training runs over the past two years. I thought about how conquering the miles in this area used to be a major struggle when I started running and how all of the hard work and training I’ve done over the past year or so has paid off. In particular, I thought about a soggy 8 miler that I did in 2013 during half marathon training that felt like an eternity! With my goal time well in my sights, I told myself that I was going to capitalize on all of that training!

I couldn’t believe how great I felt as I began to journey back towards the starting line. Part of me wanted to start running a bit harder with about 3 miles to go, but I wanted to make sure that I would have plenty of energy left to sprint down the final straight stretch on West Canal Road. Fueled by Kanye West’s “Mercy”, I conquered the white bridges with no problem, and I knew it was time to pick up the pace when I reached the bottom of the second bridge and saw that I had about one mile to go.

As I began to run faster, I put on Hyper’s “Cascade”, which was the song that I listened to during the final stretch of last year’s Towpath Ten-Ten. I thought about how hard last year’s race had been and how rewarding it felt to receive my medal knowing that I had left everything out on the course, and I kept on going hard.

During the beginning of the race, I noticed that the finish line was located extremely close to the intersection of West Canal Road and Old Rockside Road, and I told myself I’d start sprinting once I got to the area across from Quaker Steak and Lube. However, as I got closer, I saw that the finish line had been moved up the street a bit. I put on Avicii’s “Dear Boy” and began to run with everything that I had left.

Just like last year, I felt that the finish line still seemed very far away no matter how fast I ran, and I did my best to hang in there and finish strong. Before I knew it, I was close to the finish line! Even though I had started very late, I knew for sure that I had set a PR because the official race clock said 1:31.

Of course, I threw up the Johnny Manziel money sign as I crossed the finish line! I know some folks don’t like this, but I think it’s pretty cool. Unfortunately, the official race photographer didn’t get a picture of me doing that. Darn!

I drank approximately 40 glasses of water in the finish line area and chatted with some folks while waiting for Eric to cross the finish line. When I saw him heading down the final stretch, I was glad to see him running very hard with a smile!

eric

Go Eric! Our friend Wayne is in the picture on his bike; I was grateful that he paced Eric through the race.

Eric’s not a Manziel fan, so he decided to get some Tebowing in after he finished up.

eric tebowing

After we stretched a bit, we took some pictures and headed over to Quaker Steak and Lube for the delicious post-race brunch.

me and eric

I probably ate back all of the calories that I burned during the race, but after making good food and drink choices for the past few weeks leading up to race day, I figured that one meal wouldn’t kill me. Quaker Steak is awesome, and when an employee pointed out the “Lubrication Station”, I was thrilled because it’s so hard to pick just one sauce!

wing sauces

I tried four different sauces – one sauce per chicken tender.

When I got home, I saw that Butters had made me a Father’s Day card and a new pair of Mizuno Wave Inspire 9s!

butters fathers day

After church, I checked my official time and saw that I ran the race in 1:23:04- a new PR! This is over a 10 minute improvement from last year’s time. Considering that I headed into the race with the idea that a 1:25:00 finish would be great, I was very pleased!

Now it’s time to start training for the third race of the Towpath Trilogy – the 2014 Towpath Marathon in October!