We spent the whole weekend participating on various events of the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon. Great runs from the girls on Saturday and an excellent 5k run from my running mate already in the bag, so it was my turn on Sunday. (see the recap our of Saturday race day here)
I was able to pick up some training the previous week and I could rest a bit more every day, which was definitely a good thing and after a PW (Personal Worst) at Rivertown Races a few weeks ago, I was eager to get under 1:50:00. While driving to Cleveland, OH on Friday, I envisioned proudly crossing the finish line with a new PR, but obviously I still had 13.1 miles between me and that envisioned glorious moment.
I had our new Garmin watch to help me watching my pace carefully through the race and the support of the family as I knew they were going to wait for me at the Finish line. After a busy Saturday, tried to go to bed not too late and get as good of a sleep as possible. As soon as I started to walk towards the Cleveland Browns stadium on that Sunday morning, I had 45 more minutes to go until I can put into test my physical and mental resources to achieve a new PR.
The weather seemed to be great for a morning run and based on our experience in Cleveland, OH through Saturday, I was looking forward to run through this city. I spent some time inside the stadium, relaxed a bit and tried to take care of the pre-race restroom break. This latter turned out to be a bigger challenge than originally expected: I have never seen any event, where the men’s restroom produced a more massive waiting line than the ladies’ restroom… Although after walking around the stadium finally I could find restrooms without waiting lines. I walked towards the start area and took position halfway between the 8:30 and 9:00 flags, knowing that I will have to run much faster than an 8:45 pace for a sub 1:50:00 finish. Stretching, National Anthem, helicopter flying above our heads and the crowd started to move. First a few steps of walking then shortly after the crowd started to move, we were able to switch to jogging, then by the time we reached the Start line, we were already running.
The race starts with a climb up from the stadium towards Cleveland downtown following W 3rd Street. This helps to quickly warm up and get your heart rate going, in case you skipped your warm up routine… Right turn onto W Lakeside Ave and we were running towards a ramp that would take us to the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway. I would say nothing super difficult to tackle. I was expecting to start slower around 9 min/mile pace until the crowd ease up a bit, but even after the start it never really got too crowded as the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway offered plenty of space for everyone to run. (link to the race course)
Each mile marker had a giant clock showing the official race time (individual chip times obviously will be different), but I remembered that I crossed the Start line around 2:40 on the race clock and I had our new Garmin watch anyways. The first mile went by so quickly, yet I was surprised to see that it took 9:24 to reach the Mile 1 marker. Since I wanted to run until Mile 6 at least at an 8:30 min/mile pace, I switched gears after passing the Mile 1 marker and increased my speed. First we were passing buildings then started to get a better view of Lake Erie. The crowd was going at a good pace and I enjoyed the spectators who were cheering from an overpass or cheering with funny signs in their hands, standing on the top of the concrete dividers on both sides of the road. Reached the Mile 2 marker in 8:33. Not bad, so far just as I planned.
Normally this is when I just start to warm up. This time unexpectedly I started to feel not so strong. Instead of just getting really started with more serious running, I had to slow down to catch my breath. Not sure why as the pace was not very fast and the race course did not present huge hills to climb, so I did not really have a good excuse at this point. I decided to cut back on my pace a little bit to catch my breath then accelerate slowly. I reached the Mile 3 marker 9:05 later. Anything around 9 min/mile has been a very easy pace for me, so I was expecting that running at this pace I will get my breathing and my running under control again and after Mile 4 I can start increasing my speed. By now we already exited from Cleveland Memorial Shoreway and we were entering a residential area with some mini-hills to climb. Again nothing very serious, although learnt long time ago, not to underestimate any hills or any distance, so just as at other times: I run up these mini hills with carefully watching my breathing. I also stopped at the aid station to grab water. Including the water break, I reached the Mile 4 marker in 9:09.
After two “recovery” miles, I started to increase my speed again with the clear understanding of the fact, that my sub 1:50:00 finish will require a very strong running from now on. The course was still taking us through this nice residential area with lot of people out cheering for the runners. It is always great to see enthusiastic locals who are out on Sunday morning, cheering for Marathoners and Half-Marathoners. As I arrived to the Mile 5 marker in 8:47 I knew that I will have to slow down again as I started to struggle again.
This resulted in a 9:11 min/mile average to reach Mile 6 marker. Still unsure why it has been so challenging for me to maintain a 9 min/mile pace, I was still determined to not run slower than that. Also what fueled me was the desire to avoid a self-inflicted shame of finishing in more than 2 hours and for that I had to maintain at least a 9 min/mile average.
Following my first mid-race conclusion, 8:56 later I was at the Mile 7 marker. Checking my overall time, I reached my second mid-race conclusion: for my new PR I was planning to reach Mile 7 in about 59 minutes, however at the Mile 7 marker I was already 5 minutes slower. But giving up was not an option. I remembered that the girls are going to be waiting at the Finish line and wanted to see them as soon as possible. So I just kept on going and also decided to stop at each aid station for a water break. Also I hoped that my GU that I was going to take at Mile 9 will be a miracle one, which after eating it will turn me into a superhuman.
Mile 8 went by in 8:57 and Mile 9 in 9:02, so three miles of consistent pace, but I never seemed to recover my strength and speed. I kept on pushing forward, but much slower than my ambitious pre-race plan called for. By now I was planning to run 8:10 min/mile pace. I guess one challenge in life has been very well demonstrated here: when things do not go as you would expect the only thing matters is how well you handle the unexpectedly changed situation. I was trying as hard as I could. Keep on pushing Laszlo, keep on pushing! Giving up is not an option. Not even an option to consider!
Despite all of my effort, Mile 10 and Mile 11 were the slowest of all: 9:28 and 9:23 respectively. With positive thinking: despite I was slow, but at least another two miles with consistent pace. Yes, that is called positive thinking. Weird enough, despite of my struggling, time between two mile markers seeed to go relatively fast, but whenever Mr. Garmin was beeping and showing me my average pace for the last mile, I always realized how not so great my speed was. Then also came the recognition: if I keep with this slow pace, I would not even make it under 2 hours. The previously mentioned self-inflicted shame can be a great source of motivation. I let out everything I’ve got left in the tank. Unfortunately it was not much, but still: I wanted to finish in less than 2 hours and not wanted to leave any drop of energy “unturned”… Mile 12 was gone in 9:01 and for the last 1.1 mile I just run as hard as I could. With the stadium in sight, it was relatively easy to keep pushing forward instead of just running without having a visual confirmation of where the Finish line was. I managed to accelerate and finish strong. Mile 13 was gone in 8:39 and I covered the last 0.1 mile with a 7:52 min/mile pace.
There were so many spectators through the last mile with an increasing density of the crowd as we were getting closer and closer to the Finish line. I did not have too much hope to spot my girls from the crowd, especially that all my attention was on finishing strong. My vision was already blurry, I could not really get all the details of my surroundings as I was already reaching not only the Finish line, but squeezing the last drops of energy, composure, strength and anything else you can name. When I crossed the Finish line and saw a clock showing “one hour thirtysome minutes” above my head. For a split second I thought: “No wonder that I feel so terrible, since I just finished a Half Marathon in one and half hour…” Yeah, right. As I stopped running, stopped Mr Garmin and tried walking feeling dizzy, I heard the girls. Apparently they were right there on the right side waving and shouting “Daddy, daddy!”. I could not walk straight, but still managed to walk to them. After several high fives we agreed to see each other at the end of the Finish area.
The Finish area had great selection of the usual post-race treats: banana, ice cream, chocolate milk, pretzels, water, etc. I grabbed one of everything and started to eat and drink to get better.
My official chip time was 1:59:35. (here is my Sports-Tracker recording of the race) So I could avoid the self-inflicted shame (since I finished in less than 2 hours), but it was still a new PW (Personal Worst), my second in a row. Not exactly the trend I imagined when I signed up for all the races for 2013. But let me share one thing that made me forget about my latest PW:
After re-uniting with my girls, as I was sitting on the ground stretching and eating and drinking at the same time, my girls looked at me and said: “We are so proud of you, Daddy…” I know it sounds like a cliché, but right there I knew it worth it. They saw me completely wasted after I crossed the Finish line, yet it their mind they were still proud of me. So while I was eating and drinking and eating and drinking and at the same time watching my girls and all the other people around us, I was soaking in the Sunday morning sunshine and kept echoing in my head: “We are so proud of you, Daddy…”
Overall the family had a really great time in Cleveland, OH, I am pretty sure we are going to be back to this city for another weekend. I wish I could have written, that after my slow start, later I miraculously picked up my pace and I was speeding through the rest of the Half Marathon course, but this story was not written in Hollywood. However I still did not give up, I tried as hard as I could. I adjusted through the race several times as it was necessary and now I have a new source of motivation for my upcoming training runs. Last but not least the echo in my head: “We are so proud of you, Daddy…”