May in Cleveland, Ohio means one thing, besides LeBron taking the Cavs deep into the the playoffs.
It's time for the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon!
This year marks my ninth consecutive year participating this event, and it is where I ran my first marathon in 2010. There have been many course changes over this time frame and weather ranging from rain, snow, hail, and blistering heat and sun. The best summary I have have ever heard about the predictability of weather for these race was in the movie Forrest Gump. It's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.
Volunteering at the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Expo was something I had never done before but as an ambassador I thought I should really do what I can to fully embrace this race as much as possible and try to make it fun for others. I was assigned helping pass out bibs to other runners of the 5k, 8k and challenge series races with another volunteer on the opening Friday of the expo. I must say this was quite fun. I got to talk to a lot of different types of people and made sure to tell everyone who was running in the Challenge Series with me that there was only one rule, they weren't allowed to beat me.
As someone who loves to run and talk to other runners, I found it really fun to get others excited about the races they signed up for. Cleveland is a fairly diverse city but I was honestly surprised at the diversity of people who showed up. One surprise to me was just how many families were signed up together for the shorter races. As a pharmacist, I deal with a lot of people who have not taken care of their bodies as they should or have major health problems. It was refreshing to see so many people making their health a prerogative in their lives and making it a family event. I would highly recommend volunteering at this expo to anyone who wants to help support running and people who are trying to better themselves. The expo has a great positive vibe!
For 2018, I decided to run the Challenge series which included the distances of 8k on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday. I usually run 4-5 miles the day before a big race to make sure everything is feeling right, so naturally the 8k just made since. This year I somehow managed to start getting a cold and sore throat just days before the race. I knew running the 8k would be vital to me knowing how my body would handle running a full marathon the next day.
Walking to the start of the 8k on Public Square had me a little nervous. Something never feels quite right before races for me. Either a knee seems wonky, I question my hydration, or in this case my throat felt extra scratchy as well. As I got to the starting corral I saw a friend, and fellow Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Ambassador, Brian Burk. This was great for me, as I knew Brian ran about the same pace I did and would help take my mind off the race a bit since he loves to talk about running and his crazy adventures. The plan worked great for Brian and I as we both ran faster than we thought we would and felt good while running.
The 8k course was a fun course to run. Starting in Public Square, heading around the Browns stadium and by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before finishing with a nice flat section to complete the course. It is probably not a course to set a PR, mainly due to the hill on East 9th street, but it provided plenty of great views including ones of the famous Free Stamp and Fountain of Eternal Life. The 5k course was very similar but without the longer flat section. The weather held out and was perfect for a morning run with a thousand or so other runners.
After the 8k race, I went home and rested up. After a shower and nap, it was time for one of my favorite traditions of the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon weekend: Carb loading at Trattoria on the Hill in Little Italy! Honestly, who doesn't like a good reason to go eat pasta until you're silly?
(Highly recommend this place for carb loading!)
Post coma inducing food binge, it was time for my least favorite tradition of marathon weekend: having to organize all of the thing I will need into one pile for the race. Unlike a lot of runners, I'm not type A. I'm definitely type B and my running shows it. I run based on feel, not on time or splits, I take the race as it comes and often times I forget stuff that I wanted or needed. I've even shown up to races wearing the wrong shoes before. I did look at the forecast and see that it was not supposed to rain, although there was cloud cover. This is perfect for running!
Sunday morning, I woke up at 4:50 am, at a bagel with peanut butter and some orange juice plus a few glasses of water. Since my wife was sick, I walked our three dogs and made sure they all did their business so she wouldn't have to worry about it. She was sicker than I was and needed some rest. Walking our dogs before a race is great for me as it is usually super peaceful and lets me focus on how I am feeling and my rough plan for that day. This day I knew it could be a struggle for me as my throat was sore and cough drops had become necessary for me to talk. I was unsure how my body would react to the race as I somehow have avoided running a marathon sick before.
As I got into my car with all of my necessities, I checked the forecast again and saw no rain was forecasted. There was zero percent chance of ran in Cleveland. Sweet Jesus! After parking near the starting line, I put on all of my racing attire and stepped out into the rain to walk to the start. Cleveland weather once again showing it's schizophrenic nature and bucking whatever any meteorologist can forecast. My phone said it was still not raining.
In making my way to the starting line, the other Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon ambassadors and I took several pictures of our group. Some were professionally taken and look amazing, even in the light rain I'd say we are a photogenic bunch.
(you can't see how much it is actually raining in this picture)
Janelle and I had a hard time finding a spot in the corral but did manage to start about 30 feet behind the 4:10 pacers. The rain was still coming down but lightly, with fog canvasing the skyline. With the start of this race I made it my objective to have Janelle follow me through the crowd, since I was larger and could easily wedge through the thousands of runners who were at the starting line. We ping ponged through the crowd until about the mile two, when we noticed we finally caught up to the 4:10 pacers again. The crowds slowed us down quite a bit in the start, but near mile 3 we caught the 4 hour pacers and where running at a comfortable pace. From here I made a point in my head to stick with this pace group for a few miles to see how well Janelle and I would handle it. If everything went to plan and we made it through a few small hills in downtown Cleveland and into the Tremont neighborhood fine, we could start to step up the pace a little bit to build a cushion of time on our goal.
I must pause here to say that I absolutely LOVE the 4 hour pace group. Most of these runners are either newbies with high aspirations, or runners who love the sport but don't have nearly enough time to train for a Boston Marathon qualifying time. The pacer Angel has paced this group for the past few years and is possibly the funniest pacer I have ever ran with. He sings songs, splashes himself in puddles, tells jokes, stories and even does his best to motivate others if he thinks they need it. Angel is amazing!
As we headed out of downtown, we crossed several bridges. These are big or famous bridges, hell most people hardly noticed them. A lot of runners probably don't care about this but I really enjoy these crossings. These bridge crossings over the Cuyahoga River remind me that because this river caught fire, we have an EPA. These bridges and their ability to move represent engineering marvels that helped us build this city. The old bridges, that are permanently stuck in the up position to make way for freighters now, are often mocked and used as a sign of Cleveland. These bridges helped build the city we are running in and I find that pretty cool.
After this brief section, we headed up an into the Tremont neighborhood. Tremont is always packed with some of the first large crowds for the race. As Janelle and I ran through here, we caught a ton of smiled at the signs, enjoyed the music and local cheerleaders, and laughed hysterically when one man had a free PBR to any runner who would take it. A girl behind him took him up on this and I think she attempted to chug it. The man made her keep it, even after one of his friends asked if she was 21. Immediately after this came my favorite part of the race. While still in Tremont about to turn north by Lincoln Park, I saw my wife Julie Anne and my dog Fitz. I knew Julie Anne had been sick for the past several days and was feeling far worse than I was. To see that she got up, despite feeling awful, and came to stand in the rain with my furball was amazing! She did this despite me telling her she didn't have to and having little to no voice to cheer me on. We blew a quick kiss to each other as Janelle and I continued on our pace. Now we were starting to pick up or pace a bit as we were past the 10k mark and were feeling great.
(Julie Anne and Fitz)
After Tremont and past West 25th St. there is a bit of a nice long flat section through some residential neighborhoods of Cleveland. This year there was a good gathering of people outside cheering on the runners. This is the second most needed spot for fans, in my opinion. While I love Cleveland, this area isn't particularly scenic and can get a bit boring. At this point Janelle and I were making use of the flat terrain and running at around an 8:50 or so pace, trying to put some cushion between ourselves and the 4 hour pace group just in case there was a late race blow up. Despite this stretch being long there are 2 water stops that were fell stocked. The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon had 19 water stops (some you hit twice) which is great! Janelle had brought her own water, but I used every single stop to grab something quick while running. We all know hydration and carbs are key to getting through long distance running and the supply was abundant here, possibly the best I've seen on any road marathon.
As the marathon makes its way to Lakewood, we came up on the magical mile of 13.1. There were more crowds basically lining all of the course through Lakewood. Janelle's husband Ben was there on a bike and making sure she was OK and ensuring she had everything she needed. Ben's dedication to making sure Janelle finished was vital and very endearing. Ben is a great guy and it was on full display during the race. He was ready with anything at a moments notice and was giving direction of where he would be for Janelle. Shortly after seeing Ben, Julie Anne appeared again with Fitz. I think for Janelle and I, it was nice seeing our loved ones support us to keep us going. We also both had a lot of friends who were out to support us on on race day, especially as we ran through the Lakewood sections. Janelle's running group was all around on race day, as where some friends of mine from Birdtown Crossfit. Seeing the members of Birdtown always make me smile because they always were supportive of me while I went there and mainly because it's where I met my wife.
During this section another runner who was keeping rough pace with us, turned and said, "I think you two know every person out here!" Janelle, laughed and said we might. I was immediately reminded of my first marathon where I didn't see a person I knew until I saw my family at the finish. It made me feel like it was me against the world, how was everyone else so fast? Now after years of running this race, the opposite has occurred. I think this goes to show how much of a community Cleveland is, especially the running community.
This part of the race through Lakewood gets tough, it's essentially an out and back to Rocky River. The crowd support being so amazing, in spite of the earlier rain, definitely helped keep Janelle and I running. We managed to run sections of this at an 8:40-8:45 pace and really build on the extra time we had accumulated earlier. Ben was there again for Janelle, just before mile 16. He took her empty bottles and filled them up for when we came back through. This was smart on Janelle and Ben's part. Rather then rely on the aid stations, Janelle always had access to hydration in case she needed it. This is a great idea for a first time marathoner who may not know what to expect.
After running to the turn around in Rocky River and back, I told Janelle, "Remember all those fast runners who we saw that were kicking our butts as we made it out here? Well now that we made the turn, we are those fast runners!" She laughed at this as we made our way back through the northwest side of Lakewood and it's large, luxurious looking homes that sit on Lake Erie. Ben was there to replace Janelle's water bottles and Julie Anne surprised us by moving down Lake Ave a bit and I got to see her and Fitz one last time as we headed back towards downtown Cleveland and the finish. Julie Anne was all smiles, I think because she could tell we were doing well, which always uplifts my spirits. She has a way of making me feel better by just seeing her, which I guess is why we are married. Smiling and loving faces make you run faster, it's science.
During this stretch back through Lakewood, I actually saw quite a few of my patients from my pharmacy. One of them had even put together another make shift water stand. He yelled, "There's my favorite pharmacist!" and handed me some water. I was happy to take his offering and spill nearly all of it down my front while attempting to drink it. I hardly remember the rest of the run through Lakewood as I just kept talking to Janelle to tried to keep her mind on anything other than the fact that we were still running. As we approached the end of the Lakewood segments, I saw the mile 21 flag. I couldn't help but tell Janelle that if I made it to mile 22, this would have been the farthest I have ever ran without walking. I'm not sure how she felt about this, but I was motivated. Not only were Janelle and I on pace to meet all of her goals, were were also on pace for me to set a PR of sorts. When we hit the mile 22 flag, I was pumped and said from here on out we have this, it's all a PR from here!
I'm a firm believer that in long distance running, your mind is every bit as important as your physical preparation. If you get in your own head and think you will have a bad day, you will. Positivity might seem simple, but I've had it break me before and have seen it done to others as well. Race day should be a victory lap of all of your training, not a suck fest to Misery Town.
Janelle was slowing down a bit after mile 22, but I could tell that she was absolutely determined to finish this race. I've read some studies that show that a higher percent of women finish marathon and ultra marathons that start them than men. There were several reasons for this that I read, but seeing the look on Janelle's face and determination in her stride, I could see why. When I wanted to walk, she persisted. After mile 23 on, Janelle actually pushed me the rest of the way. I could make a student became the teacher quip here but I think rather the truer statement is that we just equally motivated each other throughout the whole race, it was just Janelle's turn to take the lead.
With a steely resolve and a refusal to quit Janelle and I made our way over a small hill by Battery Park (which was steeper than anticipated) and down Detroit Ave. When we saw the Detroit Bridge, we knew the end was near and we had made it. I accidentally sped ahead a bit on the bridge, but walked for a brief moment, maybe 10 seconds, to allow Janelle to catch up quickly when I was at the bottom. We ran through the finish, and I gave her a gross hug. We were done! Janelle finished and in 3 hours and 56 minutes. She blew it out of the water!
Janelle was so relieved to be done and to make all of her A and B goals, I remember that feeling. Today I had a new feeling, I was more happy for her than anything. Running is about overcoming and bettering yourself. Today I got to witness a friend I've know since roughly 2003, closely since 2007, finish a dream of hers. That is pretty awesome! It's a great feeling when you can celebrate with someone, while motivating them the whole way. I honestly don't think I would have run nearly as well without have Janelle motivate and push me for this race. Somehow I sucked up the cold and with motivation from Janelle, Ben and the amazing support of Julie Anne was able to finish with my second fastest marathon time, too. It might have stared with rain but it ended with rainbows. This was my favorite marathon I have ever run to date!
(actual rainbow during/after the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon)
(Janelle and myself)
Lastly, I'd like to give a shoutout to the best sign of the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon. Thanks Gretchen for making every single runner laugh with this well played sign!
See you in 2019 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon! PR or BUST!