I hit the start mat in only 2 seconds and was pacing with a guy who I know is a consisent 2:54 marathoner. I made certain to stay behind him because I went out ahead of him 2 years ago in Columbus and paid the price later. The first 1/2 mile was exciting with the crowd on St. Clair and the large pack of runners at the front (mile 1 - 6:16). Unlike Boston, the crowd thinned out after the first mile but that was OK since we were heading east on the shoreway by mile 2 (6:37). There's a nice little bump during mile 2 that we would encounter again at mile 24. Miles 3-6 were relatively uneventful as we headed over the hills (i.e. bridges), out of the downtown section of the course and into the quiet of Edgewater St. in Lakewood. Gorgeous homes line the street and some faithful occupants were out at this early hour to take in the spectacle. I always try my best to acknowledge their presence but I'm afraid my facial expression, no matter how hard I try, remains solemn and focused. Oh well. I was looking forward to getting to W. 117th St. as I knew my family and friends would be waiting patiently for me. Also, the first Team in Training Scream Team is stationed there. Mile 3 - 6:37, Mile 4 - 6:02 (short?), Mile 5 - 6:44 (long?), Mile 6 - 6:18.
I took down my first gel at mile 5 and would alternate Powerade and water from one water stop to the next (as always, sports drink diluted 50% with water). The next few miles were the most fun for me as I fed off runners still heading west on the shoreway. I believe there were 140+ Team In Training marathoners and I must have crossed paths with 1/2 of them at this point. We exchanged a fist pump, a thumbs up, or my favorite, a peace sign! I wasn't thinking much about my pace at this point so I was happy to see that miles 7-9 were fairly consistent (a little fast perhaps), 6:25, 6:20 and 6:37, respectively.
Mile 10... this is about the point you realize that this is no ordinary run. I've done countless runs at or faster than my marathon pace but rarely do they exceed 10-miles. Legs start to ache slightly, arms begin to feel a little heavy, etc. Plus, I've separated myself from most of the pack by this point and am running alone. The faster half-marathoners/marathoners are well ahead of me and those pacing for an even sub-3 are still a few minutes back. I zoom through Ohio City, past St. Ignatious and am on a collision course with Jacob's Field. Miles 10-12, 6:36, 6:41 and 6:34.
As I approach the halfway point, I wonder if I can hold this pace. It still seems so easy and heck, what's another 13.1 miles?!? I know better though. I've done this once or twice before and know what happens after 20 miles. Once again, I accepted that in order to clock another sub-3, I would really have to work for it in the end. Another strange thing happens at this point... I realize the marathon I've been waiting months for is half over! It's the same kinda feeling you get halfway through your senior year in high school. Anyway, miles 13-16 went very smooth, 6:32, 6:40, 6:41 and 6:34.
Just past the 16-mile mark is the art museum. This is where a bunch of us went to cheer for runners last year and is also where I jumped in with Bridget and helped her through the final 10 miles. Teresa and our nephew Michael were waiting there for me this year. I was so stoked to see them! In general, I'm not much of a talker but after 1 hour and 40 minutes without muttering a word, I was happy to stop for a few seconds to say Hi and let her know how I was doing. So far, so good I thought as I continued on past the Botanical Gardens, Cleveland Institute of Music, Western Reserve Historical Society and the Museum of Natural History. There was a noticeable downhill at this point and I thought to hold back my pace a little. Also, I knew I had the clock on my side and could afford a couple slower miles with the hope of salvaging a little energy for the final 5-6 miles. Mile 17, 6:51. Mile 18, 6:59. This is the first time I've ever used this type of "save now, spend later" strategy this late in a marathon. Hmmm, don't they say not to try anything "new" on race day?
The easy part was long past and all I could hope for at this point was low winds as I turned onto North Marginal heading west back towards downtown. My aforementioned strategy backfired on me as I was unable to get back to my planned marathon pace by mile 20. Mile 19, 7:19. Mile 20, 7:16. Luckily for me, help showed up at mile 20.5 in the form of a fresh-legged 27 year old (AKA Bryce). I told him how the last few miles had gone and how I was feeling. Even though my splits were slowing, I felt good. After all, I had just passed (for good) a couple guys I had been yo-yo'ing with on MLK Blvd and ran strong past another guy who had taken to walking due to cramps. Mile 21, 7:10. Mile 22, 7:09. Bryce was encouraging me to lengthen my strides and would was helping me focus on short term goals like, "we're going to make this mile a good one" or "let's run hard to that building up there". It's amazing how far 4 miles can seem at this point.
Mile 23 was a blast as we neared the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Annie, Bryce's fiance, was out on the course as a coach for the Cleveland Team In Training group. She jumped in with us for 1/4-mile or so. Running with Bryce and Annie on my side was really special. I also managed to pick Lou out of the crowd at this point. Lou is such an inspiration to me for many reasons and as I slapped his hand on the way past, I felt as if some of his positive energy rubbed off on me. Mile 23, 7:03.
You'd be hard pressed to find one person who enjoys mile 24 of this course. Although it passes by the Science Center and Cleveland Browns Stadium, it ends with a tough climb up W. 3rd St. This is the same "bump" we encountered during mile 2 at which time it seemed like nothing. I labored pretty hard to the top, which seemed to take forever, and was able to resume my pre-hill pace by the 24-mile mark. Mile 24, 7:34.
With only 2 miles to go, and not having broke down completely, I was confident that I would once again break 3-hours. A couple of strong miles and I would finish in 2:56 something. Bryce was still with me and was doing his best to keep me focused and running strong. Small surges here and there was about all I had left but it was enough to keep my legs from locking up. Mile 25, 7:23.
Bryce peeled off E. 6th St. and left me to tackle the long stretch down Lakeside Ave. before turning back towards the finish line on St. Clair. Lakeside Ave was lined with cones on the right side of the street keeping runners on course. They were effective in that sense, but looking ahead, it seemed as though the cones went on forever! I was really struggling at this point but kept reminding myself of the scene at the finish line and that in a few short minutes I would be there to take it all in. I saw one my my Alaska Team In Training buddies just before the final turn onto St. Clair. The sun was peaking through the clouds at this point and I could almost see the finish line.
It was now time for the "Great Deception"! That is, running the last quarter mile strong and with a big smile on my face, thereby fooling the spectators into believing the previous 26 miles were a piece of cake. All the while, I was thinking of what I would do as I crossed the finish line. A little air guitar action would be fun, but my future children would never forgive me. Brushin' the dirt off my shoulders is a can't miss, but only to the hip-hop savvy. Struggling to muster a final kick or a smile (not even a tooth), I somehow managed to throw up my left hand with the old index finger shooting towards the sky. Then, I stopped!
2:57:54 was the official time, which I am thrilled with. Much better than my previous PR of 2:59:38 in which getting in under 3-hours wasn't a lock until the last tenth of a mile. Before getting my medal or having my chip removed, I walked over to where my Dad and brother were standing to talk with them. The father of one of my childhood friends heard my name announced as I crossed the finish line and came over to say hello. His daughter (my friend's kid sister) was running her first marathon. I believe Steve and Bridget were there to congratulate me as well but I'm not certain as the immediate 4-5 minutes following the run are a little fuzzy. I finally made my way over to receive my medal, etc. I took my time getting out of the 'runners only' area being sure to grab Twinkies, Iced tea, bananas, etc.
Teresa was on the left side of the final stretch and had to make her way through the crowd to find me. I imagined the scene from Rocky where he wins the fight and immediately begins to fight through the crowd yelling for Adrian! Teresa is my Adrian, minus the dorky glasses and day-job at a pet store (although she works with some animals). A big hug and kiss from her topped the race off and made it complete. We then went to brunch at Johnny Mango's in Ohio City and took our nephew to the Indians vs. Reds game in the afternoon, after which, he got to go down to the field and run the bases.
Things of note:
- I didn't have to use BodyGlide. I got away with wearing lightweight compression shorts under my running shorts and a lightweight longsleeve UnderArmour compression top.
- Gels every 5 miles seemed to work, although I may attempt to take them once every 4 miles after the first 10 miles.
- My lightweight Brooks Racer ST's served their purpose with no problems. I'm fortunate to be able to wear such light shoes for the longer distances.
- There's nothing like wearing the purple Team In Training jersey! I got support left and right throughout the course and felt inspired every time I looked down at it.
- It's almost impossible to ignore the discomfort at the end of a marathon. Even at the end when you know it will be over in seconds.
- I rather enjoyed the "new" course and will run it again in the future.
- Qualified for Boston by 13 minutes, but may not be able to go in 2008. 2009 is a definite although I may have to use the time in my fall marathon to enter.