Woke up Sunday morning at 3:00, then again at 4:00 with my alarm. Showered, gathered all my gear and was out the door by 5:00 to catch a 5:15 carpool to the race start. Part of what woke me up throughout the night was the constant rainfall outside the window. I kept thinking that it's better now than in a few hours. After parking in a nearby lot, we headed to The Galleria for shelter as the rain was showing no sign of letting up. I can think of a handful of changes I'd like to see on the marathon course, but the start location is definitely not one of them. For those that know about it, and it seemed like plenty of people did, The Galleria is a blessing. Having somewhere to stay dry and warm with plenty of room to stretch, relax or even run laps (the second floor) is a great thing. With about 15 minutes to spare, I ditched my sweats, threw a garbage bag over my head (still amazed I remembered to pack one) and headed to the start line. Once there, I warmed up a little with some 50 meter strides, made sure my watch was in chrono mode and surveyed the field, taking note of the local running talent. Still raining, the horn sounded and we were off.
Mile 1 (6:06) was either short or I went out way too fast. I know 6-minute pace and it felt way too easy for that so I assumed it was short and kept the pace steady. The rain was steady as well. Passed through mile 2 in 6:18, which seemed right given the downhill section on E. 9th heading towards the Rock Hall. The climb up W. 3rd came in mile 3 and I was fortunate enough to fall in behind one of the most consistent sub-3 marathoners I know of, Steve Godale. He backed the pace way off and I made sure to hold back as well (mile 3 - 6:50). For the next 4 miles I paced off him and another guy and averaged 6:33's, each mile within a few seconds of each other. Mile 7 may have been slightly faster than the rest as I was anticipating seeing my family and friends for the first time. Took my first gel at the mile 7 water stop (Vanilla PowerBar). It was there that I lost Godale, but this was a good thing as he went on to run a 2:49. The rain had let up a little by mile 6 but was coming down again at mile 11 or so. I was well ahead of sub-3 pace at this point but wasn't feeling too confident. Someting about the weather and the occasional headwinds caused my mood to be off. Plus, as usual, I found myself in no-mans-land, having no one to pace with and/or keep me going. This is where the mental toughness built up during long training runs comes into play. If I was lacking one thing heading into this race, it was this.
My half-marathon split was 1:27:08 (2:54 pace). I mentioned a handful of changes I'd like to see on the marathon course and the stretch down Chester Ave. is one of them. The half marathoner's peeled off at mile 12, leaving a very desolate field. Not too spoil the ending of this entry, but placing in the top 50 in a race as small as Cleveland means a lot of running solo. Running alone in the rain down what was essentially an abandoned street got to me a little and caused for a slow miles 14 and 15 (6:58 and 7:09). Teresa was waiting for me at mile 16 with the babies, which was enough of a pick-me-up to get me back on pace (mile 16 - 6:39). My plan to clock a few fast miles leading up to mile 20 didn't exactly play out but I managed to average 6:53 over miles 17-20 and was still on 2:56 pace heading into the final 10K.
In the back of my head, I didn't feel I was prepared to run a sub-3 marathon. I just kept thinking to myself, there's no way 25-30 miles per week over the previous 4 months would cut it. My fast start allowed for a few slower miles on the back half, but I couldn't afford any more than one or two miles over 7:10-7:15. Mile 21, 7:27. I knew then to refocus on finishing consistently and as strong as possible. My focus showed up in the form of my good buddy Lou who helped pace me through to the finish. Lou kept me upbeat and helped supress the negative thoughts that wanted so desparately to do me in. Given how I was feeling at the time, I'm surprised to see that I averaged 7:47's from mile 22-26. Even managed consecutively faster miles 24-26. In hindsight, this was a small victory. So too was the finishing kick I laid down the last 385 yards (0.2 miles for those keeping score at home). Official time: 3:02:22, good enough for a top 50 finish at Cleveland for the 2nd consecutive year.
I'm very grateful for my family and friends who came out to support me. Teresa especially as she made it to three spots on the course (not easy with twins in tow). The finish line of a marathon is one of my favorite places in the world. Finally being able to hug and kiss and talk to everyone makes it all worthwhile. This year was especially amazing as my twin baby boys were there to greet me. Caden was awake and smiling at the sight of me. Cole must not be a big fan of distance running as he was passed out. I can't wait until they're big enough to cross a finish line with me!