Last year’s Cleveland race wasn’t the worst thing, but it definitely wasn’t the best. Frankly, I only did the travel races last spring because I’d already paid for them and figured even if the run sucked, I might as well get my money’s worth. But since my mind and heart was focused on mourning and I couldn’t give two damns about training, my performance was disappointing.
Thankfully for me, I’m on the other side. Mentally, emotionally and physically I feel like myself, and more importantly, I’ve been training like myself. My goal for Cleveland was to run it in under 2:30, which felt realistic, and mainly break my Nashville time of 2:25:25. I figured if I could run a half marathon in under 2:30 in Nashville, which was brand-new terrain and a constant up ‘n down of hills, then why wouldn’t I run faster in Cleveland? I’ve ran the course before and know where the inclines are. It’s a mostly flat course. This couldn’t be too bad.
So first I got to the city a little before noon. The ride up was drizzly, with little bits of sunshine peeking through the clouds. I told Mom it wouldn’t surprise me if I got rained on at some point during the weekend, since that seems to be my luck with traveling. Lo and behold, as soon as I hit the sign on I-71 that welcomed me to the Lake Erie Watershed, the rain stopped and the bright sunshine popped out. The universe seemed to have my back, which I took as a good sign.
This year I decided I’d be smarter to get checked in, get my things at the expo, get lunch and then wander my way around the city. I don’t care how many times I see it – walking along the Cuyahoga River in The Flats and then Lake Erie in NorthCoast Harbor on a sunny day will never get old. There’s something about water that invigorates and calms me. The earlier lunch at Lindey’s turned out to be one of my better ideas for both digestion and not having any waiting time. I got my usual ale battered cod with French fries and a side of steamed broccoli. I didn’t get a drink this year …. only because I didn’t feel like carrying my driver’s license with me in my shorts pocket.
Side note: I also decided this would be the year I would be a bit more daring with my fashion choices, since I’m working out, looking good, feeling good and my midsection isn’t completely embarrassing. The completely daring fashion choice: bike shorts and my t-shirt tied up into a crop top. Okay, it wasn’t a crop top crop top. Maybe an inch of skin was out when I was standing up. But I’m kind of a square when it comes to fashion, so me walking around Cleveland with an inch of tum showing was daring.
I’m really digressing right now. Anyways ….
Saturday afternoon was a lovely day of wandering Tower City, the Cleveland Arcade, Fourth Street, Playhouse Square and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I wanted to find the GE Chandelier on 14th Street, since we all run under it during the race but I’ve never been able to really look at it, and I wanted to get some pictures. I got windblown at Bicentennial Park, which made me glad that I decided to pull my hair up into a ponytail. The sun, wind and water spoke to the carefree part of me, and I knew that even if the race the following day was terrible, I could never be miserable in the ‘Land. And I needed to get back to the hotel – it was going to be an early to bed, early to rise Sunday.
In case anyone ever wondered, it turns out Clevelanders are okay with the theme song from The Drew Carey Show being their song at the marathon. You know – “All the little chicks with the crimson lips go Cleveland rocks, Cleveland rocks!”
If you’re in your 30s and your significant other doesn’t know what I’m talking about, they might be a little young for you, knight or dame.
At 7 on the dot we were off. Every year the course changes a little bit, and this year the email went out announcing that the course was redesigned to keep the full and half runners within the city limits. The first mile hit the GE Chandelier, and in years past we would have ran down the hill on 9th Street towards the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. We weren’t headed to the museum quite yet, instead taking a little trip to Cleveland State University. The campus was beautiful, so I’m not bothered by this slight change. Then we made our way back towards NorthCoast Harbor, running past the museum and FirstEnergy Stadium towards that first noticeable hill.
Mile 5 took me back to The Flats, and from there we ran across one of the bridges and up the steep hill into Tremont. Compared to Nashville and Pittsburgh I felt stronger, although I did have to walk up the hill going into Tremont. It was a lot, and I was starting to feel that morning sun at Mile 7. We ran into the neighborhood with the Christmas Story house, which was pretty cool, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t a Christmas Story fan (it’s funny, but does it really need to be a 24-hour marathon?) My watch said I was making the time I wanted, so I felt like I could relax a bit during this race and be okay.
Then we got to Mile 11, which extends the Hope Memorial Bridge. You never really think about how the Guardians on the pillars loom over the city, both protecting and comforting those who pass by. At this point I was starting to feel that pressure over 2:25. Maybe I shouldn’t have been that relaxed earlier. I was tired, and taking a few more walk breaks. The little inclines throughout the course finally caught up to me, and there were a few more between the bridge and the finish line. My calves weren’t causing me any pain, but I definitely felt the throbbing of a woman who had been running for a little bit in them. I wanted to walk. Then I didn’t. Then I did.
Then I looked at my watch and told myself no.
My calves were flaring up as I ran around Progressive Field and made a right to follow the other half marathoners. Spectators lined St. Clair Avenue and shouted words of encouragement. I noticed a little boy holding a sign that quoted Woody from Toy Story 2 and felt the emotions rise. The quote is “Ride like the wind, Bullseye!” which happens to be one of my mom’s favorite quotes from the movie. Ever since I was a child I always believed Mom was always with me in spirit no matter where I was, and seeing little signs to confirm it can still affect me. Then I saw how close the finish line was and I teared up. The watch said I was finishing at race pace, and at that point I had no idea whether I’d beat Nashville or not.
Ride like the wind, Bullseye!
I crossed the finish line and felt all the blood rushing back to me. My phone went off and I saw it was Mom congratulating me on my finish. I asked if she happened to see my time.
I beat Nashville by nine seconds. Nine frickin’ seconds.
Knights and dames, I don’t even know if I can fully describe how shocked and proud I was. I smashed a goal after all.
Cleveland really was the comeback. From grief and despair came a rebirth. It was about the race. It was about more than the race. It was life personified with the uphills, the downhills, carrying on in spite of being exhausted and the elation of making it to the other side to victory.
And I’m already thinking about when I can head north again.
So knights and dames, I appreciate you all stopping my corner of the internet. I hope you all are able to find joy and contentment in your daily life, and I hope you can be on the way for where you need to be.
Yours in running and writing,