The Frolicking Fells Life in the Lovenest and Beyond Sat, 07 Dec 2013 00:49:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Happy Thanksgiving! Fri, 29 Nov 2013 05:47:26 +0000 Joe

What a difference a year makes…

At this time last year, I was basking in the glow of my first-ever 5 miler at the 2012 Cleveland Turkey Trot. In addition to completing the race itself, I also smashed my time goal. Heading into the race, my goal was to run at a 10:00 min\mile average pace. When I crossed the finish line and saw that I had run it in 47:06 (9:25 min\mi average pace), I was overjoyed.

Striding proudly towards the finish line during the 2012 Cleveland Turkey Trot (thanks to my brother-in-law Cyrus for this great pic!)

This achievement was even more notable in light of the fact that I ran a race while sick for the first time. I felt awful in the days leading up to the Turkey Trot. I had a bad sore throat, cough, and lots of congestion. Because I wanted to end my race season on a high note, I hid how bad I felt from just about everyone since I knew that people would have strongly encouraged me to sit it out if I was sick. Once the race started, though, my adrenaline kicked in and I felt fine. Considering that 5 miles was the longest distance that I had ever run in my life up to that time, I was pretty daunted and nervous heading into the race, but I was thrilled that it went so well and very glad that I could conclude my first-ever race season on a high note.

Celebrating a race well run!

Celebrating a race well run!

Fast forward to one year later. As I scanned my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I felt like I was the only runner out there who didn’t participate in a Turkey Trot today. My left knee has been less than 100% in recent weeks, and while I’ve still been able to engage in some light running, I’ve felt my smarter self telling me to lighten up over the past few weeks and to allow myself to heal up before I gear up for training for the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon (still need to figure out if I’m doing the half or the full!) in the new year. Although spending a nice warm morning at home with Sheila and Butters was a lot of fun, I can’t deny that I was tempted to wallow in self-pity for a bit as I saw stories of triumph, fun, and PRs scroll past my screen.


How can I be mopey with these two around?

I never let myself feel this way for more than a second or so, though, because I have so many running-related things for which I should be thankful.


According to Runner’s World, 0.5% of the American population has run a marathon. So thankful that I am in that group!

On the day of last year’s Turkey Trot, I would have laughed and told you that you had gotten me confused with someone else if you had told me that I would have been able to run 1 marathon, 2 half marathons, and a bunch of other races of varying distances within a span of a year. Although this array of races seemed pretty unattainable at that time, I somehow managed to complete all of those races with a smile on my face, with excitement about the races that are yet to come, and with a desire to continue to whittle down my times and improve as a runner in the future. I’m so thankful that I have been able to physically complete all of these races and that I have been able to develop the mental toughness necessary to run several days per week for multiple hours at a time.

I’m thankful for all of the folks I’ve met through running. #Runchat, Twitter, The Sub-30 Club on Facebook, my fellow Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Official Bloggers, and so many other places have provided me with the opportunity to encourage others and receive encouragement from others all around the world. The advice and support that I have received from everyone has been a real blessing, and I’m grateful for each and every person with whom I’ve corresponded.

official blogger

Yours truly along with the 2013 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Official Bloggers. Looking forward to doing it again in 2014!

Of course, I’m thankful for salvation and my faith in Jesus. I’m thankful that Jesus loves me regardless if I run an excellent race or if I am forced to take a DNS (Did Not Start) or a DNF (Did Not Finish). I am thankful that Jesus has been with me for each and every mile, has kept me from serious injuries, and has worked quick healings for the injuries that I have suffered. It’s been another wild and crazy year—with even more craziness ahead in December—and I’m so thankful that I can trust and follow Jesus and know that everything will be OK in the grand scheme of things. It may not always be easy or predictable, but it’ll be OK.

I hope that all of you had a festive, happy, and delicious Thanksgiving! Sheila, Butters, and myself had a great evening with my mom.  For those of you going through tough times, I hope you are able to find support, love, peace, and encouragement from those around you.


The first of 3 Thanksgiving dinners! We’ve got one lined up with my mom’s side of the family on Friday and we’ll end the weekend with another one on Sunday with my dad, stepmom, and brother.

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Lessons I Learned On The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, Volume 1 Tue, 26 Nov 2013 23:29:32 +0000 Joe

We saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on Friday night down at the Cinemark in Valley View. The movie was excellent, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend that you do so (just read the books first!)


Katniss and I remembering who the real enemy is

As we drove home along Canal Road, I looked out at the section of the Towpath running adjacent to the road and began to think about all of the various runs that I had done in that specific area over the past year.

In June, I had a number of successful training runs for the Towpath Ten-Ten and a very memorable race at the rain-drenched Towpath Ten-Ten itself as I beat my miles\minute pace goal by 30 seconds.

Eric and I

My buddy Eric and I at the the end of the Towpath Ten-Ten

July was filled with brutally hot weather and injuries. I’ll never forget stopping for a drink at my car during a run in the 95 degree heat and feeling like the Powerade that I was consuming was almost immediately coming out through my pores.


Took this on July 7, 2013 – brutally hot day! Although running up and down those bridges was rough in the 90+ weather, doing so helped me prepare to tackle new distances with ease during better weather.

Of course, there was my first glorious post-injury run in early August that was punctuated with a dog bite. I still marvel at God’s goodness in the midst of a really bad situation and how a factory happened to be open at 8:00ish in the evening and receiving a shipment right when the incident occurred. If the incident had occurred anywhere else on the Towpath at that time, I doubt I would have been able to clean up with a great first aid kit, let alone finish out my run.

Later in August, though, came the longest runs of my life at that point in time. I made the mistake of attempting to squeeze in a 15 miler during a very small window of time before my dad’s birthday party.

Bad idea. The day was hotter than normal, I didn’t fuel correctly, and I wound up feeling extraordinarily broken down and beaten up when I reached the end of my run.


From the picture, you can tell that it was a pretty hot day.

I came home, and I felt nauseous, exhausted, sore, and completely unsure about where I would find the strength to run another 11.2 miles in the marathon. For the first time in my life, I thought seriously about quitting my training. There was no victory or triumph in my spirit as I sat at our kitchen table staring blankly at a piece of Sheila’s delicious macadamia-crusted fish with absolutely no appetite whatsoever.

Of course, I couldn’t stay away, and I did my 16 miler one week later. Surprisingly, this run was a bit easier, but I still felt extraordinarily beaten up at the end of it.

My last training run on this part of the Towpath came in early September, when I knocked out an 18 miler at dusk after watching the Browns lose their opener to the Dolphins. By this time, I had gotten used to running long distances for multiple hours. Although I was completely exhausted by the end of the run, I felt pretty triumphant at the end of it and was encouraged by the fact that I felt that I could have eventually toughed out a 20 miler if I absolutely had to do so.


Such a privilege to learn how to run long alongside beautiful views like this!

As I drove and discussed the epic spectacle that we had just witnessed, I thought about what I had learned from all of these runs and I really began to treasure these memories.

I learned so much from these runs.

I learned that you really do have the energy to keep running even when you don’t think that you can tough out another step. I remember running south of Rockside Road with about 7 or 8 miles left to go during my 15 miler and thinking that there was no way I was going to finish the run. In my head, I began to work out the logistics of having Sheila come and pick me up. Meanwhile, I kept on stumbling along. Before I knew it, I was at the first white bridge at Canal and Granger downing a cool bottle of water from the gas station with only 4.5 miles left to go. Although those 4.5 miles seemed like a marathon, I’m so glad I didn’t give up.

I learned that all of the pain, effort, and struggle that you encounter on these runs helps strengthen your body more than you’ll ever realize and prepares your body to make the jump to the next level without you consciously realizing it. In addition to preparing me to run a marathon, all of my marathon training helped me cut down my half marathon time by 16 minutes.

I learned that the sports drink tastes a lot better at the end of a training run when you don’t cut corners. During the last few miles of every training run, I motivated myself by thinking about the delicious beverage that I had waiting for me in my car. Most of the time, I’d dissolve a fresh Nuun tablet right before I headed out, and I’d push myself through those last miles by thinking about the cold water bottle dripping with condensation filled with a frosty grape Nuun. From time to time, I’d enjoy other beverages too. Because they contain questionable sweeteners, I try to limit the amount of Powerade, Gatorade, and other mass-produced sports drinks that I consume. However, I love the flavor of cotton candy, and Mixed Berry Powerade tastes just like raspberry cotton candy. (Here’s hoping that Nuun makes a bubble gum or cotton candy flavor soon!) I’ll never forget pushing myself all of the way to the end of my 18 miler and enjoying a nice Powerade by myself in the dark in the parking lot of Frazee House before heading home and watching “What Does The Fox Say?” for the first time.

I learned that the phrase “trust your training” isn’t just a meaningless, empty recitation thrown around to encourage other runners and that this phrase is one of the most important phrases that a runner can take to heart. Every time I set out to do a long training run, I thought about how I hadn’t thought that I could do my previous training runs and yet I had found a way to get them done every single time. During the Northern Ohio Marathon, I told myself that I had done 20 miles in the pouring rain, that 6.2 miles was a jaunt that I had done on the Towpath numerous times, and that the adrenaline of the day was going to carry me to the finish line just as Hal Higdon had said it would.


Just for the heck of it, I’m putting the time from my 20 mile training run on here.

Lastly, I learned never to forget to have fun during training and that’s it’s important to take some time to look around, enjoy the experience, and celebrate the fact that you’re simply alive and healthy enough to be out there running. I see far too many stories on Twitter and Facebook from runners who are sidelined with various injuries—and unfortunately I’m sure that those are just a microcosm of the many runners out there with these issues! A bad day running is better than a great rest day, and unfortunately many of us have several great rest days forced on us by injuries far too often. I saw this on fellow Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Official Blogger Michelle’s Instagram feed over the weekend and it’s very, very true.


Improvement is good. Chasing after new time and distance PRs can give us the motivation to get out of bed on that early morning when we’d prefer to sleep in or to squeeze in that training run after work when we’re exhausted.

That said, sometimes the chase of new achievements can really sap the fun and joy from a run pretty quickly. While it’s good to keep striving to do better, it’s not good to get so focused on numbers that running becomes more of a chore than a hobby. I hope to keep improving as time goes on, but more importantly, I never want running to be something that isn’t life-giving and invigorating.

As some of you begin to assemble your training plans for the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, I urge all of you to do your best, but make sure that you arrive at the starting line in May with a smile on your face and anticipation in your spirit!

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Your Next PR Playlist Tue, 19 Nov 2013 03:52:00 +0000 Joe

Unfortunately, those of us in Ohio are nearing the end of race season…but it’s never too early to think about what we’ll listen to when we’re setting our first PR in 2014!

Here’s my playlist from the Towpath Half Marathon earlier in November, when I completely shocked myself and cut over 16 minutes off of my half marathon time to post my first sub-2 half marathon!

pr playlist

I’m always looking for good new songs to add to my running playlist. Please feel free to pass along some highlights from your recent playlists in the comments!

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2013 Towpath Marathon: Half Marathon Race Recap Wed, 13 Nov 2013 03:48:33 +0000 Joe

Life was pretty busy in the week before the Towpath Half Marathon.

I woke up on Friday to find that one of my tires had finally given up the ghost and died. All four tires on my car were very old and I knew that they would need to be replaced before snow started flying. Longtime readers may remember that I had a flat tire on the way to the Cleveland Marathon Expo. As I made arrangements to deal with my tire, I figured that perhaps the flat tire might be a good omen that signified that I would be having as much success at the Towpath Half as I did at the Cleveland Half Marathon.

Packet pickup was much closer to my house this year, which was nice. Whenever I go to an expo or packet pickup for a race with a distance that I have never previously run, I always feel a bit lost and uncertain…almost like I don’t belong there. I wind up wandering around in a daze and I’m sure that more than a few race volunteers have wondered how I managed to wind up at the starting line! Because I had already run a half marathon, I didn’t feel this way at packet pickup, and I had a good time stopping by the various booths and talking with the various exhibitors who were there. I picked up some Gu packets because I thought the aid stations only had Powerbar gels, which I have never used before.

After taking Sheila to the airport, I spent the evening relaxing at home with some video games and carboloading with a delicious Mexican pasta bake that Sheila made so that I wouldn’t starve while she was gone!


I could seriously eat Mexican food for every meal. I took some students on a trip on Tuesday and I pointed out multiple Mexican restaurants that I love as we drove and by the end of the trip they were all making fun of my zeal for Mexican food. LOL!

As anyone who has read this blog for awhile now can attest, I have a bad habit of getting to races without much time to spare. I knew that wouldn’t be an issue at this race, because the volunteers were clear about the fact that the roads really would close at 7AM and I knew that I would have a long, cold walk to Brandywine if I didn’t make it there on time and would have had to find parking somewhere else.

Race morning went pretty well until I needed to make my English muffin with peanut butter. Our fridge was full, and I couldn’t find the peanut butter. With time running out, I opened up a brand new jar of Justin’s Organic Nut Butter that we had in the cupboard. I didn’t realize that it had to be stirred before eating, and I wound up getting (expensive) peanut butter all over the kitchen and practically everything that I took with me to the race. In the end, I got nut butter on my shoes, my iPod, my watch, my bag, and my car’s dashboard. Fortunately, I made it to Brandywine on time!


There was a lot of fog on the way there…I had hoped it would stay around so that we could run through it! Note the reflection of the infamous peanut butter English muffin on the dashboard…

Getting to the starting line so early was weird. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself! It was around 38 degrees at this time, which meant that it was too cold to stand outside. I brought along a Bible and a runner’s devotional and figured that spending some time in prayer before we started might be a good way to get myself ready, but I couldn’t focus because I was wrestling with what to wear. After my brutal run last Saturday, I absolutely didn’t want to wind up wearing too much. However, the race day temperature was cooler than last Saturday’s temperature. I eventually decided to take off one layer and I told myself that my hat and gloves would help keep me warm until I got warmed up and that I would discard them along the way (thank goodness Dollar Tree carries hats and gloves!).

Eventually, I made my way over to the starting line and I saw my friend Ramona’s husband and daughter. Ramona was doing the 10K. I talked with them for a bit while I stretched, and then it was time to go!

On my way to the starting line, I decided that I needed to tie and retie my shoes for the 1,000th time, which meant that I wound up getting to the starting line late and starting towards the back. I often find myself running at the pace at which those around me are running, and I was worried that starting towards the back would start me off on a slower note. For the first half mile or so, I was convinced that I was going to run a slower first mile than I would have liked. There was a good bit of congestion and I didn’t want to spend too much time running sideways. I saw Ramona along the way and said a quick hello.

Fortunately, I saw that my pace for the first mile was 8:53, which was a relief. The fact that I had ripped off this pace without exerting any energy at all made me give a passing thought to shooting for a sub-2 (running a 13.1 mile half marathon in less than 2 hours), but I dismissed the thought quickly and reminded myself that I had just ran a full marathon only three weeks earlier and that pushing hard could lead to a serious injury.

When I checked my watch after Mile 3, I saw that my mile split was 8:47 and I still wasn’t feeling any fatigue at all.

I thought to myself, “Should I try for a sub-2 today?” Shortly thereafter, I thought, “Nah. You can’t keep this pace up for 10.1 more miles.” As I kept on running, this discussion kept going on in my head, and I figured that the best strategy was to keep going as hard as I could without feeling too fatigued and to see what happened later on. I told myself that if I would let up if I started to feel fatigued and rationalized that the benefit of going out so hard early on was that I wouldn’t feel a ton of pressure towards the end of the race.

Eventually, we reached the entrance to the Towpath around Mile 4. As I ran past the Boston Store, I thought about how I hid from the rain last year during the 2012 Towpath Marathon underneath the porch as we waited for our friend and my stepmom and how I decided then and there that the Towpath Marathon would be my first-ever full marathon.


Langston Hughes once asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?” The poem doesn’t really give an answer, but I’m confident that the dream that was hatched on this porch in 2012 will be realized to the fullest in 2014!

I know this sounds cheesy, but once I stepped off Boston Mills Road and strode confidently onto the good old familiar crushed limestone of the Towpath and headed towards our turnaround at Station Road, I felt a sense of peace and joy. All of the hard training that I had done over the past few months on the Towpath had prepared for this race, and once I stepped onto the path on which I ran some of the most memorable training runs of my life, I felt my soul telling me that today was going to be special.

The run to the Station Road turnaround went pretty well, and I was glad that my attitude and spirits were staying high. I generally tend to start feeling the “blahs” around Mile 4-5 of a race, but not today. I hadn’t been on this part of the Towpath in a few weeks, and the scenery looked stunning. I was enjoying my music and feeling very happy about how everything was going due to the fact that I was still running at around a 9:00 min\mi pace.

As I approached Station Road Bridge, I looked at my watch and noticed that running a sub-2 half marathon was a distinct possibility. I thought to myself, “You’re almost halfway done with this and you’re not feeling too tired. Why not go for the sub-2?” I thought to myself that there was no way that I was going to be able to keep up this pace, but then I reminded myself that I had done the run from Station Road to the Boston Store multiple times and that it goes by pretty quickly. Although I had stood at the Station Road Bridge last year, I wasn’t sure about the exact location of the turnaround itself. Because of this, I wasn’t able to run too confidently in this area and I posted a 9:12 mile split.

Perhaps the pressure of the moment began to get to me, because I felt the race begin to take a turn for the worse after the turnaround. I started to really feel the effects of my hard running once I left the Station Road Bridge area. We were once again running towards the sun, and I began to feel slightly overheated. I briefly considered seeing if the water stop volunteers at the Red Lock water stop at Vaughn Road would be willing to watch my jacket. However, I didn’t want to risk losing it and I was also afraid that explaining what I wanted would take too much time, so I powered on through.

Making matters worse was the fact that I couldn’t decide if I should stop to use the bathroom. Although I wasn’t trying to hit a specific pacing goal at the Northern Ohio Marathon, I realized that consuming two cups at each of the water stops and drinking from my Nathan belt on a regular basis and not sweating much because of the cool temperatures made me need to use the bathroom far too often. (In my defense, I had read some horror stories about runners whose kidneys shut down during and after a marathon, and I didn’t want that to happen to me!) Because of that, I limited my water intake throughout the run this time around. Nevertheless, I felt like I needed to use the facilities for several miles. Part of me thought that a stop would give me some rest time and allow me to run more quickly afterwards, and the other part of me thought that I didn’t really need to go and that the time lost wouldn’t result in a greater speed payoff later. Eventually, the urge went away and I kept going. I realize that this is probably extreme TMI for my non-runner friends, but I’m also sure that every runner who reads this can relate to this, so there you go!

Around this time, I noticed that I posted a 9:14 mile split. A week or so ago, I was messing around with the Pace Calculator on the Runner’s World website and I saw that I would need to run a 9:10 average pace to post a sub-2. Two mile splits that were greater than that time were disconcerting. I am horrible with doing pacing math while running, and I began to worry that sub-2 was no longer a possibility. To my chagrin, I put my right foot in a big muddy puddle around this time as well. I have grown accustomed to running in the rain (and even enjoying it a bit!), but I can’t say that I’m a fan of running with completely soaked feet.

When I reached Mile 11.5 or so, I started to feel really exhausted. Over the past few miles, I had actually been passing several people, and I began to wonder if I had started to peak too soon. I knew that I had posted some mile splits that were much greater than 9:00 and I still couldn’t figure out if sub-2 was a real possibility. The fact that sub-2 was such a distant goal meant that I had only a vague sense of what my average mile\minute pace would need to be, which was annoying. I knew that if I left everything out on the course, went for it, and didn’t get it, I would be disappointed because I had come so close and I wasn’t sure what I could have done differently. I also knew that if I let up a little and wound up missing sub-2 by a small amount of time that I would be crushed because it would be awhile until I had that much motivation, good feeling, and inspiration during a race again. I figured that going for it and missing it would be much more heroic than simply abandoning the goal because I thought it was unreachable, so I summoned up whatever energy I had left and began to run a bit harder, posting a 9:03 mi\min time.

At the end of  Mile 11, I told myself, “You are going to run harder than you have ever run before for these next 9 minutes and it is going to be worth it because you’re going to post a sub-2 half marathon!”

Even though I was doing my best to run hard, I still felt myself dragging a bit and I was convinced that I was going to lose my chance at a sub-2 with a slow 12th mile. The song on my iPod at this point was DJ Hyper’s “We Control”, which is the song that played as I ran the final mile at the Towpath 10-10, and I reminded myself of how I overcame feeling wet and exhausted through the majority of that race to post a much better-than-expected time.

When I got to what I thought was Mile 12.5, I switched over to the two songs with which I close big races: “Minas Tirith” and “The White Tree” from soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The powerful swells of the music gave me a shot of adrenaline and I began to run so hard that I started to worry that I would run out of energy before I got the finish line.

As I ran and thought about the corresponding scenes in the movie, I began to think about Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. I thought about the bravery of those four hobbits and how they went places and did brave things that they never, ever thought they could do and that nobody around them expected that they could do either.

I also thought about the beautiful ending sequence in The Return of the King when the four hobbits bow before King Aragorn and he says, “My friends. You bow to no one.”

I thought about my amazing running community and how it is not uncommon for folks who post amazing marathon times and all sorts of other excellent times to unabashedly encourage those of us who are thrilled to merely reach the finish line of our first marathon on our feet and not in a rescue cart. Acceptance and self-esteem issues have been struggles of mine for years, and I love the fact that I haven’t yet encountered anyone in the running community who has made me or anyone else feel bad about their performance and that everyone I’ve met has been incredibly encouraging and supportive.

I knew that the end was near when I saw the cemetery on my right and the crowd assembled in the distance. The finish line was around the corner behind the Boston Store, and while I wasn’t sure exactly where it was, I figured that it would be best to run as hard as I could and figure it out later! I barreled on through past all of the spectators, past the porch of the Boston Store where I stood in 2012 and told myself that the Towpath Marathon would be my first marathon, and right around the curve to the finish line!


When I crossed the finish line, I noticed that the clock said 2:01. However, I knew that I had started well after the starting bell. Shortly thereafter, I also remembered to turn off my GPS watch. When I did so, I noticed that the time was still less than two hours. I felt hopeful that I had pulled off the sub-2, but I didn’t want to celebrate until I saw my official chip time.

By this time, I started to feel a decent amount of pain, so I hobbled around the finishing area for a bit of time, drinking mixtures of Gatorade and water and texting Sheila to let her know that I had possibly run a sub-2 half marathon.

Eventually, I felt good enough to walk around a bit. I eventually saw Stephanie and some of her friends, and it was good to say hello and catch up for a bit. This was Stephanie’s fourth half marathon in a month!


By this time, I was starting to feel pretty cold, and I also wanted to catch whatever I could of church, so I headed out.

When I got home from church, I was dying to know if I had run a sub-2. I said a quick prayer, looked online, sleuthed around, and found the results…and they said that I posted a 1:59:10 and a 9:06 average pace!

I couldn’t believe it. As I told many people, I had planned on shooting for a sub-2 half marathon at the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon in May 2014 and I was concerned that shooting for that time even after a few months of focused training would be a stretch. Perhaps marathon training and the marathon itself made my body stronger than I had realized? In any case, I was floored and overjoyed.

As I look back on how everything went down during October and November, I’m so grateful for how everything turned out. The government shutdown ruined a dream and a goal for which I had been striving for almost a year. As I watched my friend and stepmom run the 2012 Towpath Marathon in the rain last October, I told myself that this would be my first marathon and I had focused on this goal every time I headed out for a training run from that point forward. Having that dream taken away from me by something totally unexpected that was completely out of my control was more painful than I let on to most people, and I don’t think that I realized how much that it affected me until I ran on the Towpath for the first time after the shutdown.

I can’t deny that there were times when I was frustrated and bummed and I just wanted to throw the towel in on running a marathon in 2013, and I’m so grateful to God that He helped carry me through these past few months and allowed me to write a truly happy ending to the entire government shutdown saga. Running my first marathon at the Northern Ohio Marathon on a course on which I had never previously run was very difficult, but I made it through without an injury and with a smile on my face, and I think that the difficulty and circumstances make my achievement even more meaningful. Because the shutdown forced a rescheduled date for the Towpath Marathon, I was able to run another Towpath run as well…and I was able to complete a time goal that I thought was unattainable within the next few months!


I’m not sure what my next race-related goal will be, but I am sure that the 2014 Towpath Marathon is already on my 2014 race calendar as my fall marathon. I can’t wait!

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It’s Time For The 2013 Towpath Marathon! Sat, 02 Nov 2013 15:16:28 +0000 Joe

If you follow me on Twitter (@ClevelandJoe), you may have seen that I tweeted, “I am going to have to keep training for marathons in order to force myself to keep space in my schedule for free time” at least two or three times over the past three weeks.

I took about two weeks off to rest after the Northern Ohio Marathon. Hindsight is always 20\20, of course, but I’m pretty sure that I came back too hard and too quickly after the Rite Aid Cleveland Half Marathon and the Towpath 10-10 and that’s why I had some nagging injuries during late July and early August. With a few good months of running and racing ahead before the snow starts flying here in Ohio, I didn’t want to rush back after the longest run of my life and wind up sitting on the sidelines during November. Of course, the seven hours or so that I spent training each week promptly became consumed by work. I really love what I do, and I am blessed to work with students from a variety of ages. Nevertheless, going through a week without a few good runs during which I can clear my head is pretty rough.

When I wasn’t working, I spent a lot of time deciding whether I would run the Towpath Half Marathon or the 10K. Aside from making for a pretty interesting story with regards to my first marathon, the government shutdown did have one silver lining for me – the date was rescheduled to November 3rd, which meant that I could run in an additional race that wasn’t originally on my schedule!

I wasn’t sure if I should do the 10K or the half marathon. I jumped from doing 5 milers to a half marathon without fitting in a 10K in between, and I have never run a 10K. Additionally, the portion of the Towpath on which the latter part of the 10K is located goes through a beautiful area of wetlands and I really enjoyed running through that area on my 20 miler. On the other hand, I figured that shooting for a new half marathon PR would be a great way to salvage all of my training on the Towpath over the past few months. Personally, I was itching for another marathon, but Sheila wasn’t too crazy about that idea because she will be out of town on November 3rd and she didn’t want me to be alone in case my body didn’t react favorably after running my first two marathons in less than a month. Probably sound advice! Of course, I’ve already penciled in the 2014 Towpath Marathon as my fall marathon for 2014.

I finally got back into the game last weekend, when I did a 9 mile run on the southern part of the Towpath. When I pulled into the Ira Road Trailhead lot and saw this sign, a few tears came to my eyes.


After all that us Towpathers went through over the past few months, the fact that this race is actually finally going to take place is a big relief.

I am horrible with dressing properly for a run in the fall. The wind was cold at the start, so I wore a winter hat. I didn’t consider the fact that the forest would cut a lot of the wind, and I wound up overheated pretty quickly.

Nevertheless, my run was incredible. During my first mile, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. I didn’t realize how much I had missed running! The first few miles passed by pretty quickly, probably because my heart was leaping around in my chest because I was so happy to be back out on the trails.

As I ran, I saw my friends Ramona and Angie enjoying some mother\daughter time. Ramona has been an inspiration to me in recent months, as she ran her first marathon only a few years ago. Like me, she’ll be completing the Towpath Trilogy this Sunday. Here’s a picture of us from the Towpath 5 Miler in April (also pictured is my buddy Eric, you may recall that he ran the Towpath 5 Miler and Towpath 10-10 with me!)


Of course, the Towpath looked spectacular. Even though I’ve run on it many times, the Towpath never gets old.


This one is blurry because I took it while running!

I spent my cooldown walk taking some pictures. Sometimes I think I’m crazy to drive 30 minutes one way to run on the Towpath when there are many great places to run that are much closer to home, but when I see scenery like this, I’m always reminded that the drive is more than worth it!




I am very grateful that the wildlife in this area are willing to share their space with us. Nothing beats running along and seeing a herd of deer, a flock of ducks, a great blue heron, a tortoise, a badger, or a chipmunk!

Although my run was exhilarating, the fact that I was overheated made the last few miles pretty tough, and I wondered if I had another 4.1 miles left in me. A good run on Wednesday helped eliminate some doubts. Nevertheless, I am one of the world’s greatest procrastinators, and I deliberated all of the way until 11:45PM on October 30th before I finally took the plunge and signed up for the half marathon.

I am shooting for a 10:00 min\mile pace and a 2:11:00 overall time. I ran a 2:16:03 at the Rite Aid Cleveland Half, and I think that I can whittle my 10:23 pace down to a 10:00 pace. We’ll see!

If you’re at the Towpath this weekend, say hello! I’ll be wearing my usual race uniform of a purple Towpath shirt, red shorts, and Nathan water belt.

I’m so excited for this race. I’m a big believer in the saying, “Good things come to those who wait”. We’ve definitely waited long enough for this race, and I’m confident that good things will be coming the way of all of us on Sunday!

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Northern Ohio Marathon Race Recap Mon, 21 Oct 2013 03:42:47 +0000 Joe

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.

Northern ohio marathon 3

My stepmom took this picture around Mile 16 – not looking too bad at this point!

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.

lake county 2

Enjoying some sports drink before I entered the forest. I loved the fact that Lake Health Running had folks taking pictures on the course and that they were distributed for free on Facebook! (photo courtesy of Lake Health Running)

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!

lake county 1

Powering along around Mile 17 (photo courtesy of Lake Health Running)

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.

northern ohio marathon 1

Around Mile 20.5 here – you can see the fatigue on my face…

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.

northern ohio marathon 2

I mustered up the strength to smile as I departed Headlands because I knew that the end was within reach!

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.


The first picture of my approach to the finish line – less than 0.2 to go!

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!


I see the finish line!

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.


My final approach to the finish line!

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.


Me and my medal!

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.


I’m blessed with a great community of 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!

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Pre-Northern Ohio Marathon Thoughts Sun, 13 Oct 2013 02:31:17 +0000 Joe

I can’t believe there’s less than 12 hours left until my first marathon.

In a weird way, I feel a lot less pressure than I felt during the night before the Rite Aid Cleveland Half Marathon.

At the risk of sounding overconfident, I was pretty sure that I could finish the race and although I told everyone that my goal was to finish, I was secretly hoping to finish with a 10:00 min\mile pace. Of course, that didn’t happen. While I was elated to have been able to run the entire distance with only brief walking breaks at water stops, I was a bit disappointed inside that I didn’t achieve my goal.

Tomorrow, my goal is just to finish. Honestly. While I believe that my training has put me in the position to finish, I also know that 26.2 miles is a very long distance and that it will push me to mental, emotional, and physical limits that I have never, ever reached before. I plan to walk through all water stops and I also have told myself several times that it is perfectly OK to stop to walk at other points in the race. Reading a lot of race recaps from friends who have done this before have all shown me that there are plenty of outstanding runners out there who have taken walk breaks and still finished with a smile on their face.

Sure, it’d be nice to finish in under 5 hours, but I’d rather finish in 6 than try to hit 5 hours and wind up scoring my first-ever DNF. My only concern about the long time is that Sheila and my family will be there to cheer me on and that it is supposed to rain. I’d hate to have them spend a ton of soggy hours out there! Fortunately, I know that all of them will forgive me for that and that they will wait as long as necessary.

I should probably finish getting ready, but before I go, I’d just like to thank God again for helping me get to this point. I still can’t believe that only a year and a half ago I wasn’t able to run for more than a few blocks without getting winded, and now I’m on the cusp of finishing my first marathon! Without God, I wouldn’t have had the strength or confidence to do any of this…and I know that regardless of what happens to me tomorrow, God will be with me from the starting line all of the way to the finish line, even if it takes a long time to get there.

If you’re the praying type, please lift up a few prayers for me and everyone else who will be out there tomorrow. Each of us has a story to tell about how we got to that point, and Lord willing, we’ll have a few new triumphant chapters to add to our stories tomorrow evening!

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Bring On The Northern Ohio Marathon! Wed, 09 Oct 2013 03:31:27 +0000 Joe

As many of you know, I’ve had my heart set on running the Towpath Marathon ever since I went to it last year and cheered on my friend Holly as she ran the half and my stepmom as she ran the full. I’ll never forget how I hid from the rain on the porch of the Boston Store and told myself that I was going to run a full marathon in 2013 and that the Towpath would be it.

During the course of my marathon training, I thought that several things could potentially keep me from completing my first full marathon.

Running 26.2 miles is not easy; that’s why it’s such a big accomplishment. I thought that at some point my body could have just said “ENOUGH!” and I would be able to go no further. Although the weatherfolks say that we had a relatively cool summer, I can vividly recall many 90+ degree days on which there were only a few of us crazy folks out and about.


I felt like the water that I was drinking was simply going right through my pores…I don’t think that I’ve ever sweated so much!

I also thought that an injury could pop up. Last year, I only started running in June, and I didn’t have much wear on my tires when I completed the 5 mile Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. This year is a much different story. While some weeks have been heavier than others, I have been running somewhat regularly since the beginning of the year. I had no idea how my body would hold up as time went on, which is why I didn’t plan to run a marathon that required hotel rooms or long-distance travel. I was afraid that my fears were coming true in late July and early August, when a persistent calf and hamstring injury kept me out of regular action for almost a month and nagged at me all through our vacation to Rhode Island and Niagara Falls. Fortunately, those injuries are no longer an issue!


I look pretty happy here on our trip to Rhode Island (and Sheila looks beautiful, as usual!) but I spent much of the time on our drive there and back agonizing about my injuries. Fortunately, there are no pictures of me sitting with a pensive look on my face. Thank goodness we had the 90s Hits satellite radio station in our rental car to distract me! I forgot about how many great one-hit wonders came from the 90s.


As I mentioned earlier, I got bit by a dog on the run during which I found out that those injuries had gone away for good. My first thought immediately after the bite was that I wouldn’t be able to run the Towpath Marathon. Fortunately, the bite healed up quickly and a small scar is the only evidence of that incident.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that a government shutdown would throw a monkey wrench into my plans to run my first marathon. I always thought that the upside of the Towpath’s location within a national park was that we wouldn’t have to deal with traffic and that the course itself would be absolutely beautiful. I never, ever thought it would be a problem, but the government shutdown has made it an enormous liability!


One of my favorite shots from my season of marathon training…the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is such a peaceful place!

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal. I’m blessed to have a stable job and to get paid on a regular basis and I feel awful for all of the government workers who are unemployed right now. The rescheduling of a marathon is nothing compared to going without income for multiple weeks.

That said, the experience has been a bit of a downer and I have spent a lot of time thinking about what to do. Unfortunately, the Columbus Marathon sold out. The Inland Trail Marathon in Lorain County was another option, but Sheila is going to be out of town that day and I wouldn’t want to run my first marathon without her. The Northern Ohio Marathon was also sold out. I thought about just going out and running 26.2 that day somewhere around Cleveland, but the idea of finishing without an official time or recognition wasn’t very appealing.

Fortunately, the kind folks at the Lake Health Running Series who are putting on the Northern Ohio Marathon heard the cries of those of us who were going to be left marathonless and they agreed to open up spots for us! After initially stating that we wouldn’t get a medal if we ran because they were out of them, they were even nice enough to order more medals that can be picked up a few weeks after the marathon. At the risk of sounding cheesy, their willingness to do that meant a LOT to me. After driving the course last night, I signed up for the Northern Ohio Marathon. While a medal wasn’t the deciding factor, I am looking forward to putting it on the medal stand that Sheila made for me along with the various other medals that I have accumulated throughout the year.


One of the biggest themes that has been interwoven throughout my life is that my life often turns out in a way that is very different than what I had planned…and the end result has usually been for the better. I could write several posts about the many ways in which God has rewritten my life story over and over again in very unexpected ways and how His plans for my life have turned out to be much better than anything I could have created on my own.

I’m trusting and hoping that the same thing will happen this weekend. While I’m still just a bit bummed that the Towpath Marathon won’t be my first full marathon, I’m growing more and more excited for the Northern Ohio Marathon. The weather forecast is looking great and the simple fact that I am running my first marathon is exciting! While I know that the race will push me to my mental and physical limits, I also know that I’ve trained hard and run all sorts of distances over the past year and a half that I never, ever thought I could do. I’m looking forward to making some great memories this Sunday and I know that it’s going to be another day to remember!

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Dog Bites and Double-Digit Miles Mon, 02 Sep 2013 17:37:43 +0000 Joe

Where did August go?

I honestly feel like I just got out of the awesome Dodge Avenger that we rented (thanks Priceline!) for our road trip from Cleveland to Rhode Island for the wedding of Sheila’s cousin Kate and her beau Justin. Although I have only met most of them one or two times, I really enjoy spending time with Sheila’s mom’s extended family. They welcomed me with open arms into the family right after we got married and we do a pretty good job of keeping in contact via Facebook. Despite never actually having the opportunity to meet him in person until the wedding, I have actually talked about sports and fantasy football with Justin for several years. I can’t believe we didn’t get a picture with the bride and groom, but here’s a picture of Sheila and I before the ceremony:


Needless to say, I was stoked for the trip! Although Dodge Avenger has horrible blind spots, I was pleased by the fact that it did have SIRIUS Satellite Radio! When I saw that there was an entire channel devoted to fantasy sports, I was pumped.

My fantasy draft “war room” after my long run on Saturday. Two computers (and a smartphone) for research, a protein recovery shake, ice packs, Gatorade, and hopefully a bit of football acumen that will help me reach the top of the heap in December!

Anyhow, the trip was great, but in the back of my mind I was worried about my hamstring for much of the trip. I had a hamstring injury that just would not go away, and it really put a damper on my running for much of July and early August.

Having suffered through the ups and downs of Peyton Hillis’ hamstring injury during the nightmare that was the 2011 Cleveland Browns season and having spent many anxious Saturday nights and Sunday mornings agonizing over whether a hamstring injury would keep one of my fantasy football players on the bench, I was well aware that these injuries don’t go away quickly and that the best remedy for these injuries is stretching and rest.

Thanks for ruining the Browns' 2011 season!

Thanks for ruining the Browns’ 2011 season! Sheila and I won a couples’ massage in 2011 and when we went in, my hamstring was hurting. I have no idea how I hurt it considering that the extent of my exercise was going from the couch to the fridge at that time in my life. I told the masseuse, “I’ve been writing so much about Peyton Hillis’ injured hamstring that I think I hurt my own!” and she had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

As time went on, I began to wonder if running the Towpath Marathon was still in the cards for my fall. Part of me thought that I should bag it and focus on setting a new half marathon PR. The other part of me took a look at my future and realized that life in 2014 could be much busier than life in 2013. My responsibilities at work have already ramped up significantly.

By early 2014, we could easily own a house and by late 2014 we could be preparing for the arrival of a little one. (No, we are not actively trying, and I hope that this statement doesn’t mean that people we know in real life are going to start besieging us with questions about when we will. I simply put it up there because this could potentially be something that we hope will happen next year!) While I certainly plan to keep running regardless of what types of changes in life circumstances come our way, I also have realized that marathon training is much more time-consuming than half-marathon training, and there’s no worse feeling than doing a long training run and knowing that you’ll have approximately 30 seconds to ice down and rest before having to move onto another activity.

With a bit of trepidation, I decided to move forward with marathon training and told myself that I’d dial back down to the Towpath Half if my hammy didn’t get better. After a series of great shorter training runs with no pain, I decided to hop back into my plan and go for a 10 miler.

The first half of the 10 miler went very well, with absolutely no pain whatsoever. After I refueled at my car with a delicious Powerade that tasted like cotton candy, I headed back for the remaining 5 miles feeling great about how everything was going…

…until I got nipped by a dog at mile 5.25!


The front of my leg after I had cleaned it up. Probably should have taken pictures right after it occurred before I took care of it…I guess ambulance-chasing isn’t the field of law for me, eh?

At first, I was pretty stunned and shocked. I expected it to hurt worse than it did.


The back of my leg – I didn’t even know he got me here too until I saw the blood!

Shortly thereafter, my shock turned into fear as I started to wonder if any muscle, ligament, tendon, or bone damage had occurred.

By God’s grace, this occurred on the Towpath right in front of a factory who was open because they were receiving a shipment. (The incident occurred at around 8:30PM, so many of the industrial operations adjacent to the Towpath on Canal Road were closed.) A very kind gentleman saw what had happened and came out with a high-powered OSHA first aid kit, and I bombarded both of the bite areas with hydrogen peroxide, antiseptic spray, and iodine. I was extremely grateful that they were there and that I was able to get the site cleaned up.

All the while, I was also consumed with thoughts about what I should do next. Butters may look cute on the blog, but he has an aggressive side to him as well and we had a close call with him on July 4th when a child who loved him too much smothered him to the point where he gave a very short and terse warning bark that indicated he was at his breaking point. (Can’t really blame the child, of course; he’s a cute dog!)


Although I was really annoyed about the fact that I had been bit, I also didn’t want to do anything that would cause the dog owner to lose their dog. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that nothing with significant long-term effects would happen to me or my leg. (I also really wanted to finish my run, which I did after everything settled down. Crazy? Maybe.)

As I thought about what to do, Gandalf’s quote from The Hobbit rang out in my head: “True courage is about not knowing when to take a life, but when to spare one.”


Gandalf’s wisdom never lets us down! (Image from

I eventually concluded that there was no point in reporting it to the police as long as I healed properly and as long as the dog’s rabies vaccination turned out to be current. I figured that if America would allow George Zimmerman to walk free after he shot an unarmed teenager in supposed “self-defense”, I shouldn’t go after an innocent pup when he reacted in a way that is only natural to him when he is startled.

The next day, I confirmed the dog’s rabies vaccination status and talked to my doctor about the incident. He said that I didn’t need antibiotics unless it got infected. I also had my mom, who is a nurse, examine the site two days later. She said that it looked fine and that I was blessed because the dog missed my tendon by an inch or so!

Fortunately, the site has healed properly and I’ve had zero pain or soreness in the area.

Since then, my marathon training has kicked into high gear. So far, so good! After initially being caught off guard by the sheer increase in difficulty between half marathon training and marathon training once my long runs began to exceed 13.1, I’ve adjusted my expectations and recalibrated my approach and this has helped immeasurably.

Best of all, I have had no lasting injuries. When one’s stomach feels worse than one’s legs and feet after a 15 mile run, that’s a good thing, right?


My time after my first-ever 15 mile run – I felt so awful and never thought I’d want to eat again!

I have more thoughts about marathon training that deserve their own post, so I’ll save those for later.

For those of you who are training for fall races, I hope your training is going well!

What fall races are you running? How is your training going?

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2013 Lakewood Summer Meltdown 5K Race Recap Sat, 10 Aug 2013 05:13:39 +0000 Joe

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.


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.


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!


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!

mile 1

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.


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.


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.


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!

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