Monday, May 17, 2010

Cleveland Half Marathon

Prerace: hanging around in our expendable clothes

One of the last things I said to my dad as we stood in the crowd assembled for the start of the Cleveland Marathon & Half Marathon around 6:55 am Sunday was:

"Last year at this time I was completely freaking out."

Indeed. Exactly one year ago I had saddled myself with the goal to end all goals: qualify for the Boston Marathon or else. I was about to run the most important race of my budding career and I was nervous as hell. The subsequent three and three-quarters hours were going to make or break me.

We all know how that turned out.

What a difference a year makes. With Boston four weeks in the past, my running life has taken on a leisurely pace. Oddly, however, I am running stronger and better than I was during my training for Boston. I feel amazing.

So. For this year's installment of the Cleveland races, I was merely going to run the half marathon. Nevertheless, my goal this time was similarly important: pacing my dad to a sub-2:00 finish. I was 99% sure I could accomplish this. After all, my half marathon PR is 1:43:01. Still...there was a little kernel of doubt in the back of my mind which whispered: "You haven't run more than 10 miles since Boston. You barely managed a 2:00 half there. Are you sure you can do this?" I fired back: "I have been enjoying running more in the past two weeks than I have for a long time. I feel great. Of course I can do this."

Ya gotta believe, people!

Just before the start

The weather was beautiful and ideal for running: about 50 degrees, a very slight breeze, no precipitation. It was 7:00 and the sun was rising in the east. Unlike last year when I was a bundle of nervous energy, this time I was completely calm and relaxed. I was just going for a Sunday morning jog with Dad.

Mile 1 was slow: about 9:30. It was to be expected. I knew we had to start chipping away at that deficit immediately, however. I bumped up the pace until we were under 9:00/mile.

Crossing the historic Lorain-Carnegie Bridge to the West Side. You can barely see it in this picture, but the statue on the right has been crowned with a Cavs headband.

By the time we hit Tremont at mile 4 we were cruising at around 8:45/mile. The crowds were sparse, and I thought wistfully of my last two marathons (NYC and Boston) where there were people shoulder to shoulder almost the entire way. The folks who were out at 7:45 on a Sunday were very enthusiastic, though. We passed by the West Side Market and St. Ignatius. We hit the halfway point in Ohio City, and then it was on to Lakewood. We made the turn onto Edgewater Dr. just before mile 9, veered onto the Shoreway shortly thereafter, and then it was one long slog back into the city. There was a long uphill during mile 11 that taxed me more than I expected. Dad got out in front of me by about 20 meters. I did not remember that nasty slope from last year.

On the Shoreway around mile 11.

The Main Avenue Bridge, Mile 12

The inclined stretch of road pictured (blurrily) above was the last major hurdle before the end. Once we crested the bridge and hit downtown on the other side, it was all out to the finish. I had peeked at my watch enough to know we were going to come in under 2:00 without any trouble. Dad was hanging back and I suspected something was going awry. I slowed until he caught up to me and then I said we only had about half a mile to go. He said his quad was cramping. It was just another couple of turns onto St. Clair and E. 9th and then we were on the homestretch on Lakeside Ave. Memories of hurtling down this same piece of pavement a year earlier washed over me. How light and easy I felt this time, how full of energy! I cruised in for a 1:56:54 official time, and Dad was a couple of seconds behind me. We did it! We had finished in under two hours.

After the race. The giant red thing behind us is the Free Stamp, a local landmark.

A short while later, we were able to see the men's marathon winner come in.

And then, of course: BEER. Mine was a Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout.

Speaking of beer...this is what I am enjoying at the moment. Thirsty Dog Cerberus (Akron, Ohio). I must give thanks to Viper for bringing this beer to my attention. I found this tasty brew at Warehouse Beverage on Mayfield Rd. in South Euclid, if anyone's interested.

I already have my next marathon training schedule stuck to my fridge. I have decided to run the early weeks of the schedule repeatedly until the real thing starts in late June. That way I can keep my base miles up and get some speed work in at the same time. This summer is going to be Serious Training. No more fooling around. Grand Rapids is going to be Cleveland all over again: qualify for Boston or else!

Race stats:
Official time: 1:56:54 (8:55/M)
Age group: 88/1145
Females: 514/6986
Overall: 1410/12449

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thursday Thoughts: Recent Races

Since returning from Boston last month, I have been enjoying running (and not guilt about skipping training runs when I'm not training!) a great deal. I've also been busy racing. Boston was April 19, so I have been taking advantage of not having a major race to run in May (and consequently having to taper for said race), unlike last year when I had to forgo racing while I was tapering for Cleveland. That didn't stop me from abusing my taper, as savvy readers may recall.

First up: the Run Fit 5K in Novi on April 28. It was at this race last year that I ran my 5K PR of 22:13 (and roughed up my taper a little bit). I knew I wasn't coming anywhere near that time this year. I just wanted to have a little fun after work with some running friends. I ended up posting a time of 25:04, good enough for 2nd in my age group and another mug to add to my collection.

Next was the Heart of a Spartan 10K in East Lansing on Saturday, May 2. This is that other school's answer to the Big House Big Heart, which finishes inside Michigan Stadium. This time, however, I would be finishing inside Spartan Stadium at Michigan State University. Because I am a proud University of Michigan alumna, I deliberately chose to wear my "Michigan Alumni" shirt for this race. I wanted to make the natives restless. Perhaps it was the unpleasant weather (steady rain, breezy, about 60 degrees) dampening people's moods, but my brazen display of the maize and blue drew surprisingly few comments from the crowd. I got more of a response when I wore the same shirt at the Cleveland Marathon. Spike's reaction was better: a disgusted groan and some snarky comments.

I wore a hat to keep the rain out of my eyes, but that was the only part of me which wasn't thoroughly soaked by the first mile. I gave up trying to keep my feet quasi-dry, and soon I was feeling water squirting between my toes with every step and my clothing was plastered to me. After I got warmed up, the cool rain was actually quite refreshing. I sloshed my way to a 51:33 finish, good enough for 7th in my age group.

Go Blue! Take that, Sparty!

Last but not least was the Vision Builders 5K this past Saturday. Like the Spartan 10K the weekend before, it was raining steadily. The difference was the addition of a 30-35 MPH wind and a temperature hovering around 44 degrees. There would be no sassy T-shirt and running skirt worn for this race. It was back to the full winter treatment, which in this case meant my Boston jacket and whatever wasn't dirty.

Three years ago the Vision Builders race was the first race I did after I got serious about running. I finished in 28:47 (9:15/M) and thought I was going to collapse. It was incredibly difficult.

May 2007. Little did I know what was in store for me.

Saturday morning as I was getting ready, my left hamstring was sending me some curious signals. "Hey, remember me? I'm back!" I was annoyed at this development as that troublesome spot had not been an issue for months. A warmup jog before the race to assess the situation was not cause for concern, but I know the hammy only acts up when I run at a fast pace. I decided to keep my expectations low and avoid risking injury because I want to be in decent shape for the Cleveland Half Marathon, which I will be running on Sunday.

So much for that...I cruised in for a 24:13 and placed 2nd in my age group. My hamstring didn't give me a single twinge. The worst part was battling the violent headwind.

I'm on the left (duh).

With my swag.

With fellow Thursday Night Gang runner Larry, who won his age group.

Careful readers may have noticed I slipped something into this post about running the Cleveland Half Marathon. Yes indeed, I'm heading back to my ancestral homeland tomorrow to run the half on Sunday with my dad. We have done the same races before, most notably the Marine Corps Historic Half two years ago. Last year while I ran the full marathon in Cleveland, he ran the half. This time we are going to run together, as in he wants to finish in a certain time and I am going to help him get there. I'm very excited!

Hawkeyed readers may also notice I said I don't have a "major race" to run this month. But...I'm running a half marathon on Sunday! My, how things have changed. There was a time when running a half marathon was cause for extreme panic. Now, running 13.1 miles is something I might do just for fun around town on a Saturday. Training for and running marathons permanently alters one's perceptions of distance.

Aaaaand...last but not least, I took the plunge and registered for the Grand Rapids Marathon. It is my intention to requalify for Boston at the race, so I have some work to do over the summer. Luckily for me I am going on vacation to Cape Cod in July so I will have somewhere different and interesting to do some of my runs.

My next post will most likely be after the half on Sunday. Have a grand weekend, everyone!

Run Fit 5K: 25:04 (8:04/M), 2/25 AG, 33/206 F, 107/368 OA
Heart of a Spartan 10K: 51:33 (8:17/M), 7/100 AG, 86/751 F, 360/1423 OA
Vision Builders 5K: 24:13 (7:49/M), 2/14 AG, 30/162 OA

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Boston Marathon 2010

The most famous route in all of runnerdom.

I dragged my feet for so long in posting this that even Spike beat me to posting his race report, and that's saying something, considering in the past we've had good-natured contests to see who is lazier. I think I won this one, my friend.

Boston. Where do I begin? How can I accurately articulate what running this race meant to me? Should I start here:

Just after I ran my qualifying time at the Cleveland Marathon, May 2009

Or should I start here:

August 2006. Before everything.

Four years ago, pushing 225 pounds, the idea that I could change my life for the better was nonexistent. Exercise? What's that? Eating wisely? Ha!

Needless to say, my, how things have changed. From that first 5K I ran after starting to lose weight, where my only goal was to finish without walking, to my first half marathon and onward to my first marathon...what a journey. What a fucking incredible journey, people.

I arrived in Boston on the Friday before the race. I visited the expo, collected my race packet, spent WAY too much money, ate WAY too many free samples of anything that was offered, and then hit up a local watering hole with my awesome hostess for the weekend. Saturday brought entertainment in the form of the Boston Hash House Harriers, who put on a stupendous hash through the streets of Boston.

It was about 40 degrees and spitting rain but I was very happy amongst my tribe.

Sunday I met up with some other run-blogger folks at a brunch gathering organized by the Redhead. I also saw Spike and we exchanged valuable prerace strategy in the form of giant tater tots stuffed with cheese. Carb loading, right?

With Spike and the Redhead at brunch. YOU GUYS ROCK!

I chilled out for the rest of Sunday, had a big pasta dinner with some other runners from Michigan, and hit the sack around 10:00 Sunday night. My bag was packed, I was ready.

What a girl wants, what a girl run a marathon.

Race morning was cool and sunny, unlike the previous three. I took the T into the city, met up with the other Michigan folks, and rode the special Michigan runners' charter bus to Hopkinton. After hanging around the bus and the athletes' village for a while, it was time to go. I strapped on my various accessories, dropped off my bag, and headed to the start. I found my corral and wriggled into the crowd. I took a moment to relax and ready myself for the task at hand. I was about to run the BOSTON MARATHON!

Right before the start.

Without much fanfare, we were off. I had decided long ago that I was not going for any particular time on this day. It was my very first Boston, and I just wanted to enjoy every moment. Consequently, I held my pace to a leisurely 9:00-plus per mile. I listened to the abundant people cheering, waved to various folks, high-fived little kids. Around mile 2 my fellow runner Erika, one of my Thursday night running group, came up behind me. I was very glad to see her and we ran together for the next 14 miles.

On the road in the early part of the race.

Midrace action!

I was moving along comfortably, soaking up the experience. When I got to the famous "Tunnel of Noise" at Wellesley College, Erika and I sped up considerably, buoyed by the cheering. I looked at Garmy after we ran through the screams and I said, "We gotta slow down, we're running like 8:30 pace!"

Even though I'm a Smithie, I have to give these women some props.

Just after Wellesley was the halfway point, which I reached in 2:00:42, right on pace for a 4:00 marathon. Around mile 16 I said to Erika, "I have to stop and use the bathroom, go ahead and don't wait for me. Good luck!" It was a miracle I had made it that far without having to use a port-a-potty. Usually the beast rears its head long before that. After exiting the bathroom, I settled in to run the rest of the race alone. I clearly remember passing mile 17 and thinking, "Nine more miles...shit." I knew where I was heading: that lonely territory of the mind where every marathon runner goes eventually. The late miles of a marathon are an out of body experience. We grit our teeth and concentrate on forward motion, pushing through the pain. I was closing in on that place. I made it through the series of hills culminating with Heartbreak at mile 21. At mile 22 I thought wearily, "Only four more to go."

On the course

And the pavement slid past under my feet, and lo I was very tired and did want to stop more than anything, but come ON, this was the BOSTON MARATHON, and I was in it. And I made the turn onto Boylston St and the final 0.3 miles stretched out in front of me. The screaming coming from the assembled crowds reached new heights and I pushed my glasses onto my forehead because I wanted to see everything as clearly as possible, only I found myself running with eyes half closed and a stupid grin on my face as a tsunami of emotion crashed over me. I was alternately laughing with joy and crying in disbelief as I ran toward the finish.

How can I look so happy at the end of a marathon? Because it's Boston.

I am so close to being done.

As soon as I finished, I knew I had to come back. There's no question. I can't let this be my only Boston.

About a minute after I finished. I was still riding an incredible emotional high.

I finished the Boston Marathon!!

Of course, no marathon report of mine would be complete without a picture of me savoring my first post-race beer:

Victory never tasted so hoppy.

So now what? I'm looking ahead to October and the Grand Rapids Marathon. I will try for another BQ at that race. In the shorter term, I've already run three races (two 5Ks and a 10K) since Boston. Next Sunday I will be running the Cleveland Half Marathon with my dad. I ran 10 miles this morning which was my longest run since the marathon. I'm enjoying running a lot at the moment. The weather is ideal and I am shedding some pounds and moving faster, which make me happy.

What a journey, folks. What an amazing journey. Most of the time I still have trouble believing that I actually did it.

Race stats:
Official finish time: 4:11:57
Age group: 3757 out of 4984
Overall: 17420 out of 22645